After 9/11 the United States passed the Patriot Act of 2001. Soon after it had sailed through the Congress in record time the United States pressurised other governments to pass similar anti-terror legislation and join in its campaign against terrorism. Through diplomatic manoeuvres and veiled threats many African governments passed what came to be known as Anti -Terror Legislation.

Tanzania passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002, which in all intent and purpose replicated the United States Patriot Act of 2001. Due to under representation of Muslims in parliament the Act sailed through without any difficulties notwithstanding Muslim opposition outside the parliament. What concerned Muslims more was the fact that the law was not only draconian but also targeted Muslims. Muslims realised that with the Act in force any conflict between them and the government could be tried under that legislation and this would have very dire consequences.

Na Mohamed Said
By Mohamed Said

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was a piece of legislation, which was imposed on Tanzania with the intention to open up the country for covert operations against enemies of the United States. Although the act does not say so in so many words but it is clear the legislation is meant to protect United States and provide it with political and legal powers to expand its military hegemony in countries, which it did not enjoy, such freedom before.

On 17th May 2003 with the anti terror legislation in place the police in collaboration with the FBI (who were already in the country waiting for the president to assent the bill) arrested Muslims suspected to be ‘terrorists.’ But those arrested had nothing to do with terrorism; they were Muslims leaders who the government arrested for being ‘opponents’ of the government and ruling party the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).  Among those arrested were leaders of various Muslim charitable organisations – foreign oriented and local, who have distinguished themselves in providing social services to Muslims like building mosques, schools, orphanages etc. These were targeted for being ‘terrorist sympathisers’ or for being directly involved in ‘terrorist activities’ or for ‘providing logistic support to terrorists;’ and bank account of one prominent Muslim school – Al Furqan was frozen for suspicion of being a conduit of funds from abroad to support terrorism.

In response to these arrests Muslims staged a mass demonstration against the government and the United States opposing the mass arrests of the Muslim leadership, harassment by the local police, the FBI and against the Anti – Terrorist Legislation. The demonstration was the first of its kind, as never before had Muslims shown such solidarity against a foreign power. Ignoring the feeling of Muslims the then United States Ambassador to Tanzania Robert Royall addressed the Tanzanian Parliament expressing his government’s satisfaction in Tanzania’s support in its war against terrorists and pledged USD 100m in aid to East African governments to help combat terrorism. Investigations revealed that none of the arrested Muslims had any kind of military training whatsoever or had in anyway engaged in terrorist activities and they were quietly released without being charged. Investigations also failed to prove that the account of Al Furqan had at any one time used to transfer funds from abroad for illegal use. All this notwithstanding there was no apology from the government, the FBI or the police.

Probably unknown to the United States, the government in Tanzania had other reasons for passing the legislation completely unconnected with terrorism. The government was under pressure from Muslims to review the status quo. The government was and still is functioning as a Christian establishment completely marginalising Muslims.[1] The Church particularly the Catholic Church is in control of the government by proxy.  It controls 75% of the seats in the parliament. Among these seats Catholics hold 70% and the rest are divided among Muslims and Christian of other denominations. Muslims controls mere 6% of the total seats in parliament. Since independence in 1961 the Church was able to manipulate the political system in such a way that, its influence permeates the state machinery, mass media, higher institutions of learning, employment, promotion to political office etc. etc.  It also has influence in the Executive, the Judiciary and most important it controls the Parliament the highest law making body in the country.[2]

The government was engaged in its own silent war against Muslims who were opposing Christian hegemony over the country and several times the government had to use force, harassment and arrest of the Muslim leadership in trying to contain the agitation.[3] Corresponding to this awakening, Islam has gradually been gaining ground over Christianity in Tanzania. There is a noticeable number of Christians reverting back to Islam.[4] The Church is facing opposition on two fronts. It is facing Muslims on the political front agitating against the status quo and on the second front there is Islam as a doctrinaire attacking the very foundations of Christianity. The Catholic Church is the most affected and naturally it is showing concern. The government saw in the Act an opportunity it could manipulate in its war against Muslims and roll back the tide of Islam in Tanzania.

The United States government in supporting the Tanzanian government in its war against terrorism was in actual sense supporting the Christian lobby in the government in its anti Islam stand. In so doing was creating out of Muslims an unwilling adversary who had never threatened American interests. This state of affairs forced Muslims in Tanzania to open up yet another line of defence against the United States fanning an already volatile state of affairs. Muslims had now two powerful adversaries to watch out. Muslims had to confront local adversaries as well as the United States. The Christian lobby in the government had found an unexpected ally. Muslims had to organise a line of defence against the United States’ interference into what was previously purely an internal power struggle between Muslims and Christians vying for dominance in the local political arena. The entry of the United States in the conflict on the side of the government gave the conflict religious undertones, which were translated by Muslims as an impending American crusade hidden behind the façade of war against terrorism. What was worse is the fact that in the last ten years there had been a large influx of Pentecost churches into the country from the United States and these churches were not openly hostile towards Islam but were also very aggressive towards other Christian sects. However with the passing of the anti-terrorist legislation it seemed all Christian churches in Tanzania where united in combating Islam under the banner of terrorism.

The Act was therefore seen by Muslims as yet another strategy by the government to keep Muslims under perpetual bondage. The government of Tanzania had succeeded to manipulate the Prevention of Terrorism Act for its own selfish ends. The government had shifted from its long standing progressive policy of commitment to freedom, justice and equality overtime transforming itself into an ‘ally’ of the United States whose oppressive policies it once lead other African nations to oppose. This change of policy and ideological stand unsettled the established political equilibrium. It is now out of tune for Tanzania to identify itself with the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kashmir.  The government was able to kill three birds with one stone. First by passing the anti terrorism legislation it had found a partner in its efforts to weaken Islam and its influence in Tanzania. Second it managed to alienate Tanzanian Muslims from the rest of the Muslim world where Islam was under siege; and lastly the government managed to position itself correctly as an ‘ally’ of the United States and hence be considered legible for aid,[5] the aid which will eventually strengthen the status quo.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act is fraught with legal defects.[6] It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into all the shortcomings. Suffice to say that the act curbs democracy, free association, exchange of information, the right to own property, etc. There are also sections, which give the Minister of Home Affairs undue powers to declare any person a ‘terrorist’ on mere suspicion. In a country where the Church controls the government, one can only imagine the dangers facing Islam. The law empowers the Minister to freeze bank accounts of any suspected ‘terrorist organisation’ or individual. Nowhere is the law frightening than in part V 28 (6). This section deserves special mention. It stipulates that:

A police officer who uses such force as may be necessary for any purpose, in accordance with this Act, shall not be liable, in any criminal or civil proceedings, for having, by the use of force, caused injury or death to any person or damage to or loss of any property.

Muslims were concerned because the parliament was being manipulated by a foreign power in partnership with the Christian lobby to legitimise oppression against them. It was now legitimate to kill ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ or suspected ‘terrorists’ on mere suspicion. There were many good reasons for Muslims to register concern. There had been incidences in the past where state organs have used excessive force against Muslims resulting into deaths of Muslims. The act in a multi racial society like Tanzania incites racial and religious hatred against Muslims particularly those not of black African origin. The Act managed to fan fear and hatred against Muslims whipping up a frenzy of Islamophobia in the country. The smoke bombing of mosques and mass arrests of sheikhs over the years, were one of the means of intimidating Muslims and rescuing the Church from its predicament.[7] What was there to prevent state organs from applying the Act in subverting Islam?

[1] The thrust and vision of the Church in East Africa was to turn Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika into Catholic states through control of indigenous governments.[1] The Church therefore established ‘The Islam in Africa Project’ with its headquarters in Kenya of which its specific aim was to convert Muslims to Christianity. This project was under Rev. James Ritchie advisor to the National Christian Council of Kenya. The White Fathers are in Tanzania and are still involved in the work, which brought them to the country more than a hundred years ago. The position of missionaries in Tanzania has not changed as detailed above.

[2] For a detailed account see Mohamed Said, The Life and Times of Abdulwahid Sykes (1924 – 1968) The Untold Story of the Muslim Struggle against British Colonialism in Tanzania, Minerva, London, 1998.

[3] This has to be seen with this background – Muslims have clashed with riot police in Zanzibar (1988), Morogoro (1992), Mwanza (1983) and several times in Dar es Salaam. In these clashes Muslims have been killed and maimed. However not a single policemen has been prosecuted in a court of law. The most saddening miscarriage of justice was in 1998 when riot police smoke bombed the Mwembechai Mosque in Dar es Salaam in which four Muslims were killed. Following the Mwembechai crisis many sheikhs were arrested and put under custody without trail.  In 2001 riot police attacked a mosque in Zanzibar during ‘salat fajr’ and the imam was killed. No investigation was carried out and therefore no one was prosecuted for the killing.In parliament debate on the Mwembechai crisis the parliament congratulated state organs in the way they had effectively and decisively handled ‘Muslim fundamentalist. The government statement went further it stated that in future such operations to deal with ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ would be carried out by Tanzania Peoples Defence Force.[3] Few months later all the officers who took part in the Mwembechai operation were promoted and transferred to other areas for fear of Muslim reprisals.

[4] Christian converts have formed an association – Tanzania Revertees Association.

[5] 50% of Tanzania’s expenditure and recurrent budget is donor funded.

[6] There is opposition in United States to the renewal of the anti-terror Patriot Act unless changes are made to provide greater protections of civil liberties.

[7]In Sumbawanga a predominant Catholic area at one time 2000 Christians converted to Islam and in Kagera 3000. In Kagera Yusuf Makaka a pastor from the Lutheran Church reverted to Islam and converted 3000 of his followers back to Islam and built a mosque. See Mizani, 21 December 1990-January, 1991.


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