Zanzibar Darkens

Zanzibar Darkens

znzconflictYesterday’s coordinated and mostly ineffectual home-made bomb attacks on tourist sites in Zanzibar’s Stone Town is a certain indication that trouble is on the rise in paradise.

Two to four small, home-made bombs were thrown at tourist targets around 1 p.m. Only two relatively small explosions caused any damage, resulting in minor injuries to three or four Tanzanians.

No tourists were hurt.

Notably, I couldn’t find the news reported anywhere in the main stream Tanzanian media, and it was buried deep in Kenyan media. The story was first reported nine hours after it happened by Reuters, then by AFP, then published throughout the European and Chinese media.

A huge hunk of Tanzanian tourism revenue is generated by beautiful Zanzibar beach resorts. The largest single growing market is Chinese.

Initial reports by Reuters were that there were four attacks of small, home-made bombs, all around the same time at 1 p.m. Reuters identified the targets as the Anglican Church/Slave Museum, the Mercury restaurant and bar, and two at “the beach” but that the beach bombs didn’t detonate.

Reports this morning have completely dropped the references to any beach attacks. Reuters reports one person was injured; local reports carried into AFP by a reporter from Tanzania’s often shut-down Guardian newspaper claimed there were four injured and gave the names of three who were hospitalized, none seriously.

The local report suggested that at least one of those injured had picked up an undetonated home-made bomb and only then did it go off.

So I think the important facts are known, and while the character of the home-made bombs seems just a small step above errant teenagers fiddling with giant firecrackers or little rockets, the coordination of the attacks is troublesome.

The Anglican Church is an UNESCO heritage site and Stone Town’s main tourist attraction. One p.m. when the attack occurred usually represents a lull in the day’s constant stream of tourists, since it’s the hottest time of the day on this hot and humid equatorial island, and the primary attraction at the location is the underground and poorly ventilated old holding area for the slave market.

It’s also likely the time that the very poor security is even poorer or altogether absent and asleep.

On the other hand, one p.m. is the main lunch hour at the Mercury restaurant and bar, and there were undoubtedly tourists there yet to come forward.

Zanzibar has had a long and troubled history, and since the federation with then mainland Tanganyika in 1964, there has always been some political turmoil. The mainland is considered Christian and Zanzibar is completely Muslim.

Ever since 9/11 places like Zanzibar around the world have heated up. And particularly since the western world’s last few years of successfully combating world jihadism, youthful movements in these trouble spots have reemerged.

Zanzibar and the Kenyan coast are further aggravated by being near Somalia, where so much of the War Against Terror has played out in the last few years, advantage West. Click on “Somalia” and “Terrorism” to the right to read the many posts I’ve written about this.

My advice to clients to stay away from Zanzibar came in October, 2012, but that didn’t last long. Negotiations with the mainland and much increased police action quieted the island considerably during most of 2013.

There were two serious attacks in 2013, unrelated and at different times, and neither targeted tourists per se. Both were acid attacks, one thrown at a priest, and the other thrown at two teenage girls who were volunteering on the island.

The priest attack was similar to other attacks throughout the world where visible Christian clerics have publicly placed themselves in Muslim areas. I felt that the attacks on the two British teenagers in Stone Town was likely provoked by their not heeding advice to not dress scantily.

Note that yesterday the British Government’s new advice to its many travelers to Zanzibar was NOT not to go, but just increase vigilance.

At this point I think the best thing for tourists to do is avoid Stone Town. Stone Town is on the west side of the island where the bulk of the Zanzibar population is concentrated. This is where the incidents have occurred.

The better beach resorts on the east side of the island have good security. There has not been a reported incident in these eastern areas ever.

But it is a certain blow to tourism in the region, and it’s a continuing reminder that the global ideological wars between Right & Left, Christian & Muslim, Rich & Poor, are long from over.