Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Economic woes spur religious fundamentalism in Tanzania

By Deodatus Balile in Dar es Salaam

November 06, 2012
Poor economic growth and high unemployment in Tanzania have aggravated the recent rise of religious fundamentalism in the country, threatening the peaceful co-existence built over the last 50 years, analysts told Sabahi.
  • Tanzania People's Defence Force soldiers patrol Dar es Salaam after people threatened to demonstrate on October 19th to demand the release of the Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi] Tanzania People's Defence Force soldiers patrol Dar es Salaam after people threatened to demonstrate on October 19th to demand the release of the Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi]
Dar es Salaam residents say religious rallies -- both Christian and Muslim -- are being held daily in areas where they had generally been a bi-monthly occurrence.
Salim Suleiman Hassan, 56, a resident of the Manzese ward in Dar es Salaam, said the language used at some of the Muslim rallies in his neighbourhood is offensive and could threaten the peace the two religious communities have enjoyed over the years.
"I am a Muslim but I am not happy with the trend," he told Sabahi. "Insults thrown around against other religions are intolerable."
Despite the religious underpinning of recent events, Issa Musoke, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, says the confrontations are more about the communities' discontent with the economy than about each other's religious beliefs.
"Religious fundamentalism always emerges when communities are facing economic crisis," he told Sabahi.
Musoke said Muslims and Christians in the country are increasingly under pressure due to financial hardship and use religion to cope. Under these circumstances, individuals are more likely to fall prey to fringe groups that advocate extreme ideologies to which they would otherwise not subscribe, he said.
To create a stopgap in the short term, Musoke said national leaders need to reconcile the conflicting parties and stop tensions between the communities.
In the long term, he said the government should focus on economic development. Failure to do so will provide terrorist and extremist groups fertile ground to advance their misguided ideologies, he said.

Youth hardest hit by unemployment

Deusdedith Mushi, a sociology lecturer at Mzumbe University, told Sabahi that unemployment among youth is a time bomb. He said most rioters are unemployed youth who have nothing else to do.
In Dar es Salaam, 57,000 youth aged between 15 and 24 years are unemployed, corresponding to an unemployment rate of 16%, according to the World Bank.
"The conflict can only be put off once economic problems are solved," Mushi said, adding that the increase in religious rallies and the bourgeoning number of churches and mosques are a direct result of failed government policies.
On October 19th, police and the Tanzania People's Defence Force used tear gas and water cannons to disperse planned protests calling for the unconditional release from jail of Secretary of the Council of Muslim Organisations Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, marking the first time the army was deployed to contain religious rioters in Dar es Salaam.
Mushi said the use of the army was alarming and indicates the failure of the police to contain public unrest. "We had witnessed dangerous religious in-fighting over the past 12 months, but the authorities did nothing to stop it," he said. "This is unacceptable."
The government banned religious rallies for 30 days after the riots and will monitor mosques and churches to ensure religious sermons and public speeches do not incite violence, according to Minister for Home Affairs Emmanuel Nchimbi.
"We cannot continue with the current situation. People should respect each other's faith," Nchimbi told Sabahi. "We have no superior or inferior religion … all Tanzanians should remain free to worship God the way that fits them, without offending others."
Nchimbi said the government is doing all it can to improve the living standards of all Tanzanians and urged civilians to not fall prey to groups with political agendas.

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