Workmen are raising the walls around the Assemblies of God Church on the outskirts of Zanzibar’s Stone Town. Sweating in the heat and humidity, they have cemented row after row of concrete blocks to a height of some 10 feet. In May this year a violent mob stormed this compound and burned the 500-seater church inside. Six months on from the attack tell-tale licks of black smoke still darken the cross on its repaired walls.
Bishop Dickson Kaganga, who now has bars on the window of his office, says he and his fellow Christians are “living in fear”. The Pentecostal priest, whose car was also torched in the assault, talks darkly of a rising tide of radicalism on the Indian Ocean archipelago once famed for its cosmopolitanism and religious tolerance.
After 16 years work as a missionary on the overwhelmingly Muslim archipelago, the bishop has little doubt who is to blame for the attacks that ruined his church and ransacked several others. He points to the rise of a group calling itself The Awakening, or Uamsho in the islands’ native Swahili. A religious charity which historically confined itself to propagating Islam but has recently entered the political realm with its own brand of faith-based populism. The group’s loud calls for independence from Tanzania and anti-mainlander rhetoric have proven hugely popular. Mr Kaganga insists that they are “advocating chaos”.
The church burnings coincided with the arrest of Uamsho’s leader, the cleric Farid Hadi Ahmed, in connection with an illegal demonstration.
The following day witnessed some of the worst riots seen on Zanzibar.
The leadership of the group has denied any involvement in the attacks and no arrests have been made. Since then a pattern of arrests, riots and unrest has dogged the islands culminating the deaths of several protesters and one policeman earlier this month.