Tanzanian president offers formula for West-Islam peace
Speech marks fifth anniversary of APARC
As reports of a widening divide between the Islamic world and the West dominate headlines, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, president of the United Republic of Tanzania, offered a recipe for peace Monday night in a speech at the Trustees Ballroom in the School of Management. Kikwete, who leads a peaceful democratic country that is 40 percent Christian and 40 percent Muslim, cited educational reforms, policies promoting equity, and the reorganization of the tripartite system inherited from colonialism as three achievements that have encouraged the easy coexistence of Christians and Muslims. “Diversity is beautiful,” commented Kikwete. “It is not necessarily threatening.”
A foundation for equality and peace was laid, the president said, by educational reforms instituted by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, a devout Roman Catholic who became Tanzania’s first president in 1962. At the time, Tanzania’s best schools were Christian, and Muslims were lagging behind in both education and job opportunities. Nyerere, whom Kikwete cites as a mentor, took the step of making all the private Christian schools public, and he ensured that they gradually became interdenominational. By 1969 all nonstate schools— most belonging to Christian missions—were nationalized so that Muslim families would feel comfortable sending their children to school.
“Mwalimu Julius Nyerere believed strongly that policies promoting equity would be the most effective weapons to address and dampen the politicization of religious identities,” explained Kikwete. “Schools, health facilities, and residences were integrated.”
Next came the reorganization of the tripartite system inherited from colonialism, which divided the courts along ethnic lines, into a single-tier judicial system.
A media campaign was also conducted to unify the country. “Tanzanians of different generations were constantly bombarded with political messages—in the media, at the workplace, and in schools—that emphasized national unity and the celebration of diversity.”
Lastly, Tanzania’s constitution maintains strict separation between politics and religion, banning any political parties that campaign on religious lines, while also providing strong protections to religious expression. “Propagation of religion is allowed; insulting other religions and violent proselytizing is not,” said Kikwete.
These foundations have borne fruit in mostly peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians, according to the president. Although there has been some fundamentalist agitation on both sides, advances have also taken place, such as the Commission on Peace and Reconciliation, recently put together by Muslim and Christian leaders. Kikwete’s government has created the office of minister of social and political affairs, whose primary responsibility is the promotion of harmony and dialogue between Tanzania’s ethnic and religious groups.
We must make sure, Kikwete emphasized, that religion is not “the only vehicle for aggrieved people to seek comfort or relief from real or perceived injustice.” He added, “We have to pray and work hard for understanding and dialogue. Christians and Muslims will not disappear, and their differences will remain different.”
Kikwete’s appearance was the first of several special events marking the fifth-anniversary celebration of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center (APARC) at BU. APARC was established by Charles Stith, former US Ambassador to Tanzania and director of APARC, to chronicle developments related to democratization and free-market reform in Africa.