The lack of international concern over the anti-Muslim attacks in Zanzibar, leave observers worried that another Kosova type situation is waiting to explode in East Africa. Nafeez Ahmed explores the history of the abuses.
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The island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous province of Tanzania, has been undergoing an escalating political crisis for several decades. More than 60% of the mainland population and 97% of the population of Zanzibar are Muslims. The crisis – which stems from historical injustice in the creation of the current political establishment in Zanzibar – is liable to spiral into a devastating humanitarian catastrophe, unless significant action by members of the international community is taken in advance. Since the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April 1964, the government has consistently attempted to suppress popular dissent against the unfavourable conditions of the prevailing regime. An ongoing programme of suppression in this respect has gradually intensified throughout the ensuing decades since 1964, with a series of unfair elections culminating in a particularly brutal crackdown in the wake of rigged elections at the end of 2000. The crackdown was initiated by the authorities to quell mounting popular protests by the Muslim opposition against the unfair electoral process, condemned by international observers. Protestors were shot or beaten to death by police accompanied by militias. At least 100 Muslim supporters of the opposition were killed in the first phase of violence, while up to a 1,000 or so fled as police broke into homes, beating, arresting and detaining civilians. Supporters and leaders of the opposition in particular were arrested and detained. Several hundred Muslims remain missing, and hundreds continue to flee the escalating violence into Kenya. The government, which has issued several Islamophobic statements, seems to have no qualms about using violent methods to repress popular Muslim dissent. There are reports of the appearance of mass graves in the aftermath of indiscriminate shootings by police forces. The crackdown has thus been unprecedented in its scale and viciousness, and signifies that the future of Zanzibar is likely to be fraught with increasing political turmoil and related violence.