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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 17:24 GMT
Zanzibar's shattered peace
Beach front of Stonetown
Zanzibar presents an idyllic image
By Roberta Taylor in Dar-es-Salaam

Arriving in Zanzibar from the Tanzanian mainland, visitors quickly discover that the island regards its identity with some emotion.

No matter that visitors and tourists have had their passports and visas examined and stamped in Dar-es-Salaam or Arusha; the ritual is repeated once again in Zanzibar.

The minor inconvenience results in an exotic entry stamp, but indicates the strong feeling of separateness held by many on Zanzibar and Pemba.

Map of Zanzibar
Zanzibar has semi-autonomous status
Julius Nyerere, the father and first president of modern Tanzania, succeeded in creating a nation with a strong sense of national identity.

There may be 120 tribes in Tanzania, but unlike some other African states, citizens will describe themselves simply as "Tanzanians".

But not in Zanzibar. They resolutely call themselves Zanzibaris despite the union with Tanganyika which created the state of Tanzania in 1964.

Zanzibar's historic capital Stonetown is feeling the tension following last week's clashes between police and supporters of the opposition CUF party in the archipelago.

The number of dead and wounded remains a matter of dispute between the Tanzanian government and the opposition parties.

Last weekend Stonetown changed character

Last weekend Stonetown changed character The usual busy harbour was strangely silent and foreigners in seafront hotels were asked not to photograph the modest ship in port representing the Tanzanian navy.

Tourists stayed in their hotels although a walk through the town revealed a few curious foreigners baffled by the sudden silence in the narrow winding streets.

Virtually every shop was closed and thick wooden shutters were locked in place with oversized padlocks. Stray cats outnumbered the usual taxi touts who survive on the thriving tourist trade.

It was unclear whether shopkeepers had taken the precaution to close their businesses in the face of expected demonstrations or were stopped from entering the town.

View from a dhow
Old fashioned boats are still the order of the day
Tourists who had planned to travel across the island to east coast hotels had to wait several hours to secure passes to travel on the roads.

Roadblocks manned by armed security forces were plentiful but traffic was not. After having their passes examined, visitors were waved through with a nod.

Both backpackers and well-heeled travellers are drawn to Zanzibar's tropical atmosphere, an intriguing blend of Africa and the Middle East.

The variety of pungent spices for sale along the narrow lanes, restaurants set on the roofs of antique palaces, and white sand beaches seem to confirm to visitors that they are on a fabled island.

The inexpensive bungalows on the north coast, complete with excellent scuba diving, and the pods of friendly dolphins on the southern tip have ensured the growing tourist trade. Zanzibar is a popular stopover for many visitors who have been on safari in East Africa.

Cancelled bookings

This perception of Zanzibar may have changed in recent days due to the violent demonstrations and travel advisories issued by a number of Western governments.

Opposition parties have mooted further demonstrations on the archipelago and on the mainland.

Many Zanzibaris are worried about the current rash of cancellation of bookings in the hotels and guesthouses. Zanzibar's income is now more dependent on tourism than spices.

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See also:

29 Oct 00 | Africa
Row mars Tanzania poll
27 Oct 00 | Africa
Tanzania: Political who's who
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tanzania
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