Zanzibar Christians Fear More Attacks After Church Burnings, Evictions

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

By Worthy News Africa Service

ZANZIBAR CITY, TANZANIA (Worthy News) -- Christians on Tanzania's Zanzibar Island anticipated more attacks against them Wednesday, July 1, as two churches were reportedly burned over the weekend by suspected militants opposing the spread of Christianity on the Muslim dominated semi-autonomous territory.

The Evangelical Assemblies of God in Tanzania (EAGT) church and a nearby Pentecostal Evangelical Fellowship in Africa church building were torched Sunday, June 28, with militants warning Christians to halt worship services, church officials said in published remarks.

"We don’t want churches on our street," read a flier dropped at the door of Charles Odilo, who had donated the plot on which the EAGT building stood, reported Christian news agency Compass Direct News. "Today we are going to burn the church, and if you continue we are going to burn your house also," the statement reported said.

There were no reports of injuries. Sunday's attacks on Zanzibar came shortly after Muslim militants, angered by a recent upsurge in Christian evangelism, reportedly drove members of Zanzibar Pentecostal Church on May 9 from worship premises in a rented house at Ungunja Ukuu.


The violence has been linked to anger among militants over a two-day evangelism  campaign culminating in an Easter celebration. Fearing for their lives, over 20 church members gathering for a Saturday service reportedly fled as Muslim militants approached them. Worship services were said to continue in smaller groups, with the pastor making home visits.

Earlier, another congregation was forced to leave its rented building by government officials, backed by "Muslim radicals" church sources said. Officials reportedly ordered Christians of the Church of God Zanzibar from their rented government facility effective April 19, "to pave the way for renovations." But two months later, pastor Lucian Mgayway said no renovation work has begun and none appears to be forthcoming as the complex has been turned into a business site.

Compass Direct News quoted Pastor Mgayway as saying that the eviction was "a calculated move to disintegrate the church and to please the Muslims who do not want us to be in this particular area.”

Authorities have also put restrictions on evangelism and Christian programming on local radio and television, Christians say. Officials have not commented.


There have been several other known attacks against churches and other Christian institutions in recent years on the impoverished island of some one million people. off the coast of East Africa.

It comes amid political tensions on Zanzibar, which maintains a political union with Tanzania, but has its own parliament and president. A former center of the spice and slave trades, present-day Zanzibar is infused with African, Arab, European and Indian influences, observers say.

Under international pressure, the island held multi-party elections in 1995, which were won by the ruling, pro-union Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) rejected the outcome and alleged vote rigging.

The CCM declared victory again in troubled polls in 2000 and 2005, which the international monitors said was overshadowed by violence and fraud accusations. Many CUF supporters fled to Kenya in 2000 after deadly clashes with police. Both parties signed a reconciliation agreement in 2001, but political tension remains.

Tourism is Zanzibar's biggest industry, but analysts say most Zanzibaris do not benefit from it with average wage less than $1 per day. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).