All You Need to Know About Safety Guidelines for Travellers During Zanzibar Elections 

Every five years, there are elections in Tanzania, and next month, it is that time again. In the past, Zanzibar has experienced some political violence, particularly during election time. The last elections in 2010 were peaceful as the parties came to a coalition agreement prior to the elections, and this year, peaceful elections are expected, nevertheless, here are some pointers for your travels to Zanzibar during elections in October 2015.

Election Time on Zanzibar  – Do’s and Don’ts for Travellers

The most important thing for visitors to know when traveling during election time on Zanzibar, is that the tourist areas are never affected much.

The set up of Stone Town for example, does not allow much of local political meeting taking place close to the tourist attractions and most political activism will take place in the surrounding neighbourhoods but not in the historic city centre itself. The same applies for the beach areas – if you stay in your hotels and/or on the beach, you will not realize that there is an election going on.

Avoid Joining Gatherings or Masses of People

In the lead up to election time, scheduled to be on October 25th, any larger crowds should be avoided. While it might be tempting to join in the masses of colourfully dressed people, these gatherings are the potential hotspots for clashes between the parties. During campaign, oppositional groups have tried to disturb meetings and rallies.

Don’t Travel to Pemba

You are best advised to avoid travelling to Pemba during election time altogether. Furthermore, in  Zanzibar (Unguja), the army soldiers are much more present on the roads, especially during night time.

Expect Increased Number of Check Points Throughout Zanzibar and Dont Travel at Night Time

You should avoid unnecessary travels or walking around during night time since you are likely to be stopped by security forces. Tourists have nothing to worry about, but you should keep it in mind if you are out and about with locals as they might be more prone to stop-and-searches during this time.

Rastas have been known to be stopped at random with police or soldiers cutting their dreadlocks – what relation that has to the election, you will need to ask the police yourself.

Don’t Engage in Political Discussions With Locals

Engage in political discussions with  Zanzibari locals (ie beach boys, taxi drivers, etc) at your own risk – you will find most merely shrugging their shoulders since to them politics is just the bigger of the devil taking most of the money, but some will be very opinionated and not open to a two-way discussion.

This is Africa and Zanzibar is an island – while the Zanzibari locals might seem like the most welcoming people in East Africa, some few people are scared to discuss political views in too much detail since most people know someone or of someone who has ‘disappeared’ after too much of the wrong opinion. Everyone knows everyone, so people don’t like to stick out (positively or negatively).

Best Place to be on Zanzibar During Election Day is on the Beach

During Election Day and the subsequent result announcement, just head to the beach and enjoy Zanzibar’s finest: long white pristine beaches with lots of palm trees and turquoise blue waters. In the shamba (countryside), you will not see much of the excitement and you can use the time to relax.

The inauguration of the new president will take place sometime early November – if it is disputed, you better stay on the beach to avoid any potential clashes. However, this year’s election is not expected to escalate and international observers as well as security measurements are put in place.

Chances are that you will be in Zanzibar and not even realize that there is an election going on.

A Little  Bit About Policitcal Background on Zanzibar

The main political party in Tanzania is the current governing party CCM which has fierce opposition by CHADEMA on the mainland. In Zanzibar, you will see two types of color combination: the current CCM government of Tanzania carries the colors yellow and green, the opposition party CUF dons white and blue.

While Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region, making up merely 1.5 Million of Tanzania’s population, it has a significant contribution to the economic and political sphere.

CCM has been ruling Tanzania almost continuously since independence and the establishment of the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. While CCM finds some wide spread support across the island of Unguja, Zanzibar’s second island Pemba has always been in favour of the opposition party – subsequently, Pemba has always been more of a violent hotspot during elections.

The current CUF leader Seif Sharif Hamad has been campaigning to become President ever since the introduction of a multi-party Tanzania and the formation of CUF, having been beaten by the CCM opponents every time and often under suspicions of irregularities and rigged elections.

The union between Tanzania and Zanzibar is not the most harmonious one. Although concessions have been made in the past (for example, one of the president or vice-president has to come from the island archipelago), Zanzibar feels disadvantaged and cheated out of some benefits (such as distribution of international donor money, access to funds, power within the political arena, etc among others). The status of the government is somewhat loose, with the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar not being officially recognized as an autonomous one by everyone.

In addition to the economic and political differences, religion plays a huge part. While Zanzibar is over 95% Muslim, combined with the mainland, the weighting of religions is more a third Christians, a third Muslims and a third animalistic religions

. Hence, Zanzibar feels part of its identity lacking support, with some conservative religious right-wingers calling for the independence of the islands in order to be able to join the Arab League and having access to more funding.

Close ties to the Arabic countries can be seen in the colonial history with Oman, the current funding of mosques, madrassas (Qur’an schools) and scholarships provided by Arab countries and the tourism links observable by daily flights and second homes owned by Arabs along the South East coast.

The wish for independence has been fueled by violent clashes of the UAMSHO (transl: The Awakening) movement, which has tried to take religious motivation for political changes, with the Zanzibar security forces during 2012.

Written by: Sine Heitmann  – Expat in Zanzibar for 5 years. Married to Zanzibari, mom to little daughter. Living and working on the South East Coast of Zanzibar, finds it fab.