For more than 200 years US citizen could not pick a president who has roots outside the country. This might have been the result of racism or belief that a person other than ‘original’ US citizen was capable of effectively leading the powerful nation and help it to maintain its values.
But after political changes globally, and strengthening of democracy, things have changed in the US. We witnessed last year a senator with his origins from east Africa, Barack Abdallah Husein Obama, becoming the first black US president. He won the race on Democrat ticket and was sworn on January 20, 2009 as US president.
What has happened in US can also happen in Zanzibar this year through Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Eleven CCM members have already picked nomination forms, seeking their party appointment as presidential candidates.
Since 1964 Revolution, Zanzibar, which is formed by twin islands of Unguja and Pemba, has had never elected a President from Pemba. All people who have been elected into the post are from Unguja.
Things might change this year as among the much touted possible candidates are from Pemba. Moreover, Zanzibar election might record another history as among those who have picked forms to view for the post is a person with Asian origin, Mr Haroun Ali Suleiman, who currently serves as the minister for Education and Vocational Training.
Those who have picked nomination forms are and from Pemba include the Vice President,. Dr Ali Mohammed Shein and the deputy minister for East Africa Cooperation, Mr Aboud Mohammed Aboud.
Political analysts view the contest between these two groups as one of issues which will make Zanzibar election this year very interesting. On the other hand, while Dr Shein is backed by his portfolio as a VOP for nine years, Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, who has tried his luck for the post in the past two elections and won Zanzibar nomination, will also add flavor in the race.
It is believed that the contest among these contestants will be fierce as they have top qualities and they are all seem to be fit for the post. They are regarded as people who have been loyal to their party, they have distanced themselves from controversies, they are not known to openly involve and engage in political groups and they all support recent reconciliation move by CCM and main opposition Civic United Front (CUF).
The fact that they have their origins in Pemba might be an added advantage to the three contestants.
For his party, Dr Shein has promised to maintain and improve peace.
“If I win I will make sure that Zanzibaris live in peace and maintain their culture of tolerance and assisting one another by addressing their differences,” he says.
“I have decided to go for this post with determination to serve my colleagues in Zanzibar as my record as civil servant shows. I believe that I have made a correct decision for the benefit of my party, Zanzibaris and my country. Many things are being said but I am generous person contrary to what is being touted against me,” says Dr Shein.
He says contrary to what critics have been saying against him, her was firm on issues and many leaders, including former President Benjaim Mkapa, who named him his assistant after passing away of Dr Omar Ali Juma, knows this.
“There are those who say that I and a kind of leader whose responsibility is only inaugurating projects. That is not true, such words aim at disheartening me… I am capable of leading a country and President Jakaya Kikwete and former President Mkapa know,” he says.
For his part, Mr Haroun said he will concentrate on the implementation of CCM manifesto if elected. His focus will be on ensuring that recent political reconciliation is maintained and improved as well as safeguarding the 1964 Revolution.
“The Revolution is which assured me and my brothers of education… before the Revolution we were denied a chance to study, but after the Revolution, we went to school as it was a national policy that all people should be educated free of charge,” he says.
Mr Haroun attributed values of good leaders as being loyal, people centred, selfless and being open minded with ample knowledge of issues.
“But a leader should also be courageous enough to tackle serious challenges and in case of Zanzibar, safeguarding Revolution is of paramount importance,” he says.
He says of Zanzibar to prosper, unity is important and urged fellow Zanzibaris to ensure that they maintain and cherish peace as that is their most precious asset.
“I don’t believe in discrimination as it is the number one enemy… I have restored 60 teachers who were sacked for political reasons… CCM believes that all people are equal,” he says.
On his race, Mr Haroun remarks: “I have been a Member of Parliament for the past five years and a member of House of Representatives for ten years, a Revolution Council member for 15 years… I have maintained all those posts… I am the first person of my origin to hold a Cabinet post for ten years and no one saw me as an Indian. Remember, I am also in the National executive Committee of CCM.”
“People didn’t see as an Indian while holding all those posts. Why should the race issue immerge today?” he queries adding:
“To me, race does not matter, whether you are black, white or even blue, what matters is your dedication to serve the people, and that is what has prompted me to vie for this post.”
He says if he succeeds, he will ensure that CCM manifesto is properly implemented but if he fails, he will return to Makunduchi to contest for Representative seat.
Mr Mohamed Aboud, who is named as Mgunya from Mombasa says what he knows is that he is true Zanzibari and his origin is in Pemba. He says thought their original is in Mombasa, but their family migrated to Pemba in the 8th century.
“Usually, people who live in islands are immigrants, the world over. But on my side my family has been living in Pemba for more than three centuries… I can say that I am probably ‘more Zanzibari’ than those who are questioning my nationality,” he says.
Asked if he will clinch the presidential post while the hardliners have vowed never to allow a person from Pemba tro hold the post, Mr Aboud says the 1964 Revolution were conducted to remove racism and segregating someone because he is from one part of the country was tantamount to embracing racism.
“I believe that my party is beyond those cheap politics and it will safeguard rights of all aspirants… my party constitution allow members from any part of the country to contest for this post provided they meet the qualifications,” he says.
He says people should think of a person who was capable of deafeting the opposition during the General Election and not where such person comes from.
“I can stand and win against CUF’s Seif Sharif Hamad. I have good plans to develop Zanzibar if elected,” he adds.