TANZANIA: Faith leaders denounce slapping of ex-president

March 12, 2009

Christian and Muslim leaders in Tanzania have condemned an attack on retired president Ali Hassan Mwinyi after he called for peaceful Christian-Muslim co-existence, and also for more use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

"It is a shameful, terrible thing. I condemn the attack," Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa of the Anglican Church of Tanzania told Ecumenical News International. "When politicians are talking about Christian-Muslims relations, I see that as good."

On March 13, a Tanzanian court jailed 26-year-old Ibrahim Said to one-year in jail for slapping Mwinyi on March 10 during his speech promoting condom use as part of celebrations to mark the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Mokiwa said he viewed this as an attack on people's faiths, adding that Tanzanians still viewed Mwinyi, who was president of the East African nation from 1985 to 1995, with great respect. "We still looked up to him for a good example," said Mokiwa, who said later he regretted that a culture where leaders are not being respected was taking over in the country.

While Mwinyi was speaking in Dar es Salaam, Said emerged from the crowd, and slapped the 84-year-old retired president on his right cheek.

"Sinning before God who can forgive, and sinning without a condom: which is better?" Mwinyi had said in the address.

Police said Said had also told them he attacked Mwinyi because he insisted on peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians.

Said "said he believes Muslims and Christians should not mix because they belong to different faiths based on different teachings," Suleiman Kova, Dar es Salaam special police zone chief, was reported as saying by The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania.

Nation-wide condemnation of the attack is continuing, with analysts warning of threats to the security of national leaders.

"Bakwata [the council of Muslims in Tanzania] unreservedly condemns the act and sincerely apologizes to Alhaj Hassan Mwinyi, his family and the government," Mufti Sheikh Issa Bin Shaaban Simba said in a statement.

It was during Mwinyi's terms as president that Tanzania began to end the socialist policies and one-party rule of Julius Nyerere known as Ujamaa, by relaxing import restrictions and encouraging private enterprise. In his second term, multi-party politics was introduced. Tanzanians refer to Mwinyi as Mzee Rukhsa, which means "Everything goes."

Related Topics: