Oil threatens Tanzania unity

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA - Prospects that Tanzania's offshore could have oil now threaten to split the union with Zanzibar.

On the other hand, this is uniting Zanzibar's political rivals.
The isles House of Representatives has been up in arms demanding oil should be removed from the Union affairs.

That both licensing for oil exploration and actual oil benefits, if found, should belong to Zanzibar.

The Union Government has stressed that oil exploration was a Union matter and has gone ahead to consider applications for exploration of the Indian Ocean waters surrounding the islands of Pemba and Unguja (the main island).

The prospects for striking oil aren't as bright as one would have hoped at present. Tanzania's coastal and offshore exploration since the 1970s has only resulted in striking huge reserves of natural gas at three areas.

These are Songo Songo Island off Mtwara region; Mnazi Bay in Lindi in southern Tanzania; and Kimbiji, a short distance south of Dar es Salaam.

Latest reports show that no major oil well has been found so far.

There have been numerous rumours about finding oil seeps in the Rufiji River valley, and some studies of the country's bedrock show a 'high' probability of finding oil in several places in the country's Indian Ocean coastal belt and on the mainland.

Several foreign companies have signed contracts with the Union government to explore for oil but none has been lucky enough to hit a well.

Exploration for oil began nearly 60 years ago.

Such information notwithstanding, to most of the islands House Representatives, it is an emotional issue.

Members of Parliament of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and those of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) converge on this issue.

The legislators claim that oil wasn't stated in the 1964 articles of the Union between the founders Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Sheikh Amani Abeid Karume of Zanzibar.

The Union Government argues that the sea is intractably linked to Tanzania's sovereignty, and all aspects of that nature are Union matters.

Although CCM and CUF have been at each other's throat over elections and the current political unease in the isles, political observers on Tanzania mainland assume that this is a political gimmick aimed at winning votes in next year's general elections.

The islanders have also demanded that if oil be a Union matter then all minerals be likewise.

They demand to have a share of the proceeds from the myriad of minerals on the mainland.

Zanzibar gets 4.5% of the Union revenue while the Union government retains the rest of 94.5% as agreed upon early 1990s with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).






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