Healing the discriminatory legacy of the slave trade in Zanzibar
By Benson Muchuki
ALTHOUGH the era of slavery in Zanzibar is now considered as history memories of the vice still linger in the minds of the descendants who are slave traders as well as victims of the vice.
Efforts are now being made to refocus on such historical events with the intention of healing and reconciliation.
The subject has featured very prominently during the just ended Zanzibar International Film Festival which has set aside various programs that are meant to enlighten the visiting public on historical facts of the matter as well as seek to reconcile the past.
Among the most notable to this effect was the screening of a live talk show, Hatua hosted and produced by Moforce Training for Film and television, a project of the Amin Mohammed Foundation based in Nairobi Kenya.
It is now over 110 years since the abolition of slave trade on the Island of Zanzibar but the talk show sought to explore the after effects of the vice and seek solutions from local Zanzibaris` who turned out in large numbers to express their divergent views on the matter.
The theme of the talk show was `Healing the Discriminatory legacies of slavery` and began with an introductory song by the Hatua band which emphasized the need for community to take positive action on various matters affecting their political and social well being.
The topic of the show dubbed `effects of slavery in Zanzibar` also included the showing of a documentary which sought to capture the views of various Zanzibar`s on the matter, there was a general feeling from respondents that the legacy of the vice was still lingering in present day society.
Other issues that were raised include the need for the present generation to remove feeling of bitterness against descendants of slave traders as well as the need to rectify an imminent identity crisis that some Zanzibaris` of mixed descent are currently facing.
Talk show hosts Kabinda Lemba and Salma Maulidi later afforded local Zanzibaris an opportunity to express their views on the matter leading the way to a lively debate, in which hair-raising matters were raised.
Mohammed Salim a locally based Zanzibari said he was surprised that historical matters of the vice were now the focus of attention ignoring the fact that the vice still exists in the modern day setting.
`It was only two weeks ago that it was discovered that modern day slavery still exists in countries such as China where `labourers` were sold for 60usd and were forced to work in brick making companies.
Besides that let us all remember that Zanzibar was simply a transit point entailing that the effects were not as harsh as those in other parts of the world,` he said.
Others such as Hasmia Pandia who has lived in Zanzibar since 1978 made rather lukewarm contributions emphasising the need for local Zanzibaris` to embrace the spirit of tolerance and togetherness.
`All human beings are equal thus the need to embrace each other,` he lamented.
As the debate became livelier critical issues were brought up which dug deeper into the underground world of modern day Zanzibar.
Mohammed Omari said discriminative tendencies still exist on the Island as inter marriages are still restricted by certain quarters of the community.
He however said that the present generation were not to blame as the trade has been inherited from their fore fathers.
The holocaust of slavery is still present in the mindset of certain individuals as was discovered during the talk show that lead to calls from other participants to refren from being emotional while addressing the legacy of the slave trade.
Rev Louis from Jamaica said the church had a critical role to play in the healing process.
`We recently conducted inter denominational church activities meant to bury various differences that the legacy has brought about. The church must be in the fore front in tackling the issue,` she said.
There was also a general feeling Zanzibaris` have no reason to be bitter as the Island was simply a transit route for the traders and that very few of their descendants were actually involved in the trade.
Arab traders could not take on the full blame, as people. Africans were also involved in the trade.
Mahfouha Hamid, a descendant of the famous Arab trader Tippu Tip said that there was overwhelming evidence to the effect that some Africans were also slave merchants.
`What is this talk about blaming Arab traders as having been the only ethnic group of people who practised the trade.
Have we forgotten that even the Mwinyi Mkuu were also deeply involved in the trade?
Slavery is the worst form of injustice in the history of mankind but let us not habour feelings of bitterness,` she said
Discussants said that the emergence of modern day slavery was more vicious than the pre historic slave trade as it borders on neo colonialist trends.
Vivid examples such as the existence of sex slaves and child soldiers in most parts of Africa were evidence enough to prove the existence of the vice.
Globalisation was also identified as among the leading causes pushing poor countries in Africa towards a tight corner.
The Participants suggested that the best way for the healing process in Zanzibar was to ensure that a spirit of reconciliation existed among people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Boniface Sangura, a resident of Dar es Salaam said there was an urgent need for Zanzibaris` of African descent to refrain from carrying an identity of an enslaved people.
The Hatua Talk Show
* This is an audience participation/host driven talk show, complete with a live band that promotes awareness on community issues and seeks responsible solutions and actions that individuals can undertake to make life better within the community.
It promotes positive discussion on social issues and starts useful public dialogue through participation in the show.
The talk show hosts help to bring out the concerns of individuals on these topics as well as helping the audience to find possible solutions.
The effect is then enlarged through Television broadcasts of the show to a much wider audience
- SOURCE: Guardian