Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices

A Reflection of Freethinking Rights in the Constitution of Zanzibar of 1984: Prospects and Challenges

Image Credit: Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge.

By Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge[1]


A freethinker is a person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independent of tradition, authority or established belief.[2] While Freethinking can be described as a situation of having a rational reasoning and independent mind when analyzing things, political or religious.

General Overview of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is situated roughly 20 miles from the shores of the African continent, consisting of the two main islands of Unguja, with an area of 640 square miles and the Pemba Island with one of 380. Zanzibar has a geographical proximity to mainland Tanzania.[3] Zanzibar is in East Africa and got independence from the British on the 10th of December 1963. However, on the 12th of January 1964, a popular revolution took place that overthrew the “Arab” sultan[4], and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar was established.[5] In April 1964, therepublics of Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to become the United Republic of Tanzania.[6] Zanzibar (Tanzania Zanzibar) has a population of 1,303,569[7] of which 99 percent are Muslims.[8]

The Status of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is not a sovereign state;[9] the sovereignty is vested in the United Republic of Tanzania[10] by which Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania (Tanganyika) are parties of. However, Zanzibar has the so-called internal autonomy; whereby, it has her own constitution, parliament, president, the cabinet of ministers, national anthem, the judicial system from High Court downwards,[11]except the Court of Appeal which is a union matter.

The Status of Constitution of Zanzibar

The constitution of Zanzibar has the power within Zanzibar territory[12]; hence, the republic constitution has no power to intervene on Zanzibar issues such as “non-union” matters. In case of any violation of human rights, a victim can seek redress from courts of law. The constitution of Zanzibar has introduced a bill of rights, which means the international human rights have been incorporated into the constitution of Zanzibar.[13] The bill of rights was placed in the constitution of Zanzibar in order to balance between public justice and individual rights so that individual rights should not be abused.

The Manner on which Freethinking Right Is Reflected In the Constitution of Zanzibar

The rights of freethinking within the constitution of Zanzibar demand a legal interpretation in order to make it be appreciated easily. There are a number of articles within Zanzibar constitution which provide rights to freethinking practices, mostly these rights have been illustrated in the so-called basic human rights. Generally, the Zanzibar constitution provides basic human rights such as equality of human beings and equality before the law, as per article 11 and article 12 of the constitution; these articles stipulate that in Zanzibar, under the constitution, every person is to be treated with humanity and dignity, and should enjoy a fair treatment in the eyes of law, and that any kind of discrimination of human beings is not accommodated, while Freedom of expression and the right to information is stipulated in article 18. Hence, these articles to promote the concept of man and ideas. Freedom of belief and right of freedom of religion is provided under article 19(1) of the constitution, among other things, the article insists that every person has the right to the freedom of having conscience or faith and choice in matters of faith or religion, including the freedom to change religion or faith. Religious activities and spreading of religion and religious ideas are allowed, but procedures must adhere.

Freedom of association is stipulated under article 20, guaranteeing the same to the Zanzibaris. People are allowed to form or even join different kinds of associations or cooperation, which will also allow persons to express their views in public, such bodies can be preserving or furthering beliefs or any other interests, provided they abide by the rules and regulations of the state. What is enshrined in article 20 can further be described that the constitution permits even the formations of freethinking organizations and associations? Therefore, the center of this essay is from these articles, and more specific is article 19 and article 20, which in an indirect way reflects the concept of freethinking rights in Zanzibar, legally enshrined in their constitution as the mother law of the land. Hence, other laws are expected to pave ways for such constitutional rights to be seen prevailing in practice. Although, the constitution does not declare openly that Zanzibar is a secular state. However, in its preamble under article 5 among other things, it stipulates that Zanzibar is a democratic state, of a multiparty democracy and adheres to the principles of the rule of law. This implies that the state will be ruled according to the legally made laws, and the constitution of Zanzibar as the mother law has provided rights of freedom of faith and religion and equal treatment of human beings and rights of associations. In that aspect, Zanzibar’s government gravitates towards secularism, thereby reflecting the freedom of freethinking in Zanzibar. More so article 3(1)[14] provides that Tanzania is a secular state; Zanzibar is part of the United Republic of Tanzania.

The Challenges of Practicing Freethinking in Zanzibar

As a matter of law freethinking right is legally recognized and enshrined in the Zanzibar constitution, but as a matter of practice and real experience, it is hard to find freethinkers or nonbelievers organization or association in Zanzibar. This being different to religious organizations, especially Muslims and in other cases Christians, who enjoy the same rights picked from the same articles of the same constitution, meaning the mindset of the society is orbiting only on Islam. Laws provide certain rights inclusively, but either the fundamentalists or the extremism in the society fails to respect or frustrates such liberty based rights to others.


The Zanzibar constitution is subtly secular based, even though the society is very religious; this might pose a challenge for potential freethinkers outside the circle of Abrahamic religions.



Clarence and Kipobota, Human Right Report in Tanzania 2007.Legal and Human Rights Center, Dar es salaam. And Zanzibar Legal Aid Services, 2008

Fauz Twaib, The Legal Profession In Tanzania, The Law and Practice.Dar es Salaam: Law Africa,1997

Issa Shivji et al, Constitutional and Legal Systems of Tanzania. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers, 2004

Malkiat Singh, African History A Revision Course For Primary and Junior Secondary Classes. London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1980

Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Africa Since 1800, 4th edition Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

The World Almanac and book of facts 2009. New York: Readers Digest Trade Publisher,2009

Other Sources

Nontract No 11r 1993.FFRF, Inc. Madison WI 53701.

[1] Is a secretary of jicho jipya think Anew…a freethinking organization in Tanzania.a teacher teaching in secondary schools in Tanzania, an advocate of the Highcourt in Tanzania,holds L.L.B, L.L.M-ICT- LAW,PGD-LP.Dip-Educ.

[2]Nontract No 11, by Dan Barker 1993, FFR, Inc. Madison W1 53701.

[3]Clarence Kipobota and Andrea Wobick, Tanzania Human Right Report 2007, (Dar es Salaam: Legal and Human Rights Center Dar es salaam and Zanzibar Legal Aid Services, 2008), 144.

[4]Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Africa Since 1800, 4th edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 229

[5]Ibid, 143.

[6]Malkiat Singh, African History A Revision Course For Primary and Junior Secondary Classes (London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1980), 187.

[7] The National Census Report of 2012. United Republic of Tanzania, Tanzania in Figures 2012. National Bureau of Statistics and Ministry of Finance, June.2013.Page 9

[8]The World Almanac and Book of Facts,( a Readers Digest Company New York, 2009), 823.

[9]Article 2 of the Constitution of Zanzibar, of 1984

[10]Article 1 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977

[11]Fauz Twaib. The Legal Profession In Tanzania, The Law and Practice (Dar es Salaam: Law Africa 1997), 307.

[12]Article 4 of the Zanzibar Constitution of 1984

[13]Issa Shivji et al,.Constitutional and Legal System of Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers 2004),59.

[14]Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977

Image Credit: Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge.



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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.