Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dispensing survivors' justice in Zanzibar

In the wake of the situation in Zanzibar, let us revisit this article:

Dispensing survivors' justice in Zanzibar

Chambi Chachage

2010-04-15, Issue 477

Recent developments in Zanzibar's politics require serious historical scrutiny. It is not by accident we are now being bombarded with what transpired before and during the revolution. Why now?

If you happen to be internet savvy you might have come across a video of the ‘bloody revolution’ that is circulating online. One can sense that its aim is to debunk the revolution. It is coming in the aftermath of a quest to commemorate Zanzibar’s ill-fated independence of 1963. I say ill-fated because its government was the one that was overthrown in the 1964 revolution.

One cannot dispute the historical fact that the political landscape in Zanzibar continues to be shaped by the build-up to this revolution. The bitterness has not yet disappeared among its polarised survivors. As an attempt to resolve this seemingly never-ending animosity, a number of great political negotiators have called for a ‘muafaka’ (accord) based on a coalition government.

Chief among these reconciliatory figures are Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Professor Haroub Othman, to name but a few. It is well-documented how they relentlessly called for a government of national unity in Zanzibar. One of them even attempted to mediate.

Two key players have now been added to the equation. The Citizen (7 April 2010) notes that way back in 1958 Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the then newly independent Ghana, advised Abeid Amani Karume and his political opponents to 'work together, win elections together, and win independence together' in Zanzibar. 'Karume', The Citizen further cites its source, 'accepted the idea and started advocating a unity government as the proper mode of governance.'

The source, Salum Rashid Maulid, who was the first secretary of the Revolutionary Council, affirms that Karume expressed this desire for a government of national unity in 1962 at the Constitutional Conference in London, suggesting that it 'would eliminate political differences among Zanzibaris'. But in 1963 a controversial election did not fulfil that desire. Then the revolution was broadcast in 1964. What has happened since then has been a political rollercoaster.

To put an end to this political instability – which tends to reach its peak during elections – the president of Zanzibar, Amani Abeid Karume, and the leader of the main opposition party, Seif Sharif Hamad, are now on ‘talking terms’. In fact what is happening between them is unprecedented. Seif has even made 'a surprise return to the Zanzibar headquarters of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), 20 years after quitting the ruling party' (The Citizen, 8 April 2010).

All these reconciliatory moves are ‘long overdue’ affirmations on the need to embrace what the author of ‘Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror', Professor Mahmood Mamdani, refers to as ‘survivors’ justice’. This justice, as opposed to ‘victors’ justice, 'seeks to reconcile rather than to punish, to look forward rather than backward'. It is a more relevant way of dispensing justice in 'a continent where a relentless pursuit of justice in the post-independence period had all too often turned into vengeance'. Why? Because there is no winner to take it all!

Mamdani further elaborates: 'If peace and justice are to be complementary, rather than conflicting, objectives, we need to distinguish victor’s justice from survivors’ justice: If one insists on distinguishing right from wrong, the other seeks to reconcile different rights. In a situation in which there is no winner and thus no possibility for victor’s justice, survivors’ justice may indeed be the only form of justice possible.' He then presents South Africa as a case study.

Thus: 'If Nuremberg is being turned into the paradigm for victors’ justice, the postapartheid transition in South Africa needs to be acknowledged as the paradigm for survivors’ justice. The end of Apartheid in South Africa was driven by two terms – forgive but do not forget – agreed upon at Kempton Park. The first part of the compact was that the new power will forgive all past transgressions of the law, as long as they are publicly acknowledged as wrongs. There will be no prosecutions. The second was that there will be no forgetting, which is why henceforth rules of conduct must change, thereby ensuring a transition to a postapartheid order.' This is continuing.

But can all this apply to Zanzibar? Yes. Why? Simply because of the conflicting legacy of the revolution. As Mamdani correctly observes, South Africa is not an isolated example, rather, 'it is actually a prototype for conflicts raging across the African continent.' From what we have seen in the 1995, 2000 and 2005 elections Zanzibar, as it is now politically, is a ticking bomb that can easily explode and lead to a number of conflicts. Do we know what will happen in the 2010 elections?

Let us go back at the drawing board and dispense a form of justice fitting for Zanzibar. So far, I am fully convinced, such form can only be survivors’ justice. Only a win–win situation will do.


* Chambi Chachage is a co-editor of 'Africa's Liberation: the Legacy of Nyerere', forthcoming from Pambazuka Press.
* Chambi Chachage's blog can be found at
* © Chambi Chachage
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.
Hamoud are you sure you understood that article? I think in a way Zanzibar has done what the article was advocating!
Chambi Chachage
The author prophsy on Zanzibar ahd been prooved wrong. Zanzibar nowa is free from internal strife and moving forward to National building!
Hamoud "Zancorps"


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