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Zanzibar gets first private newspaper since revolution

In a bid to revive what was once a diverse and dynamic press, several journalists in Zanzibar last week launched the archipelago's first private newspaper for 40 years.

Dira, the Kiswahili word for "compass", is the first privately-run newspaper since the violent revolution in 1964 that led to Zanzibar's union with Tanganyika and the formation of Tanzania.

"We want to give people confidence that this is their country, that they can say what they think and that the constitution protects them," Ali Nabwa, the weekly newspaper's managing editor told IRIN on Monday.

"Because of this paper, people here are very excited, but they have been asking, 'Will it be able to continue? Will they allow you?'" Nabwa said. "But they are not doing us any favours by letting us publish. This is our constitutional right. So long as we do not commit an offence, they cannot ban the paper."

Nabwa admitted that there was pressure to "toe the line by praising the government", but he said that Dira would continue publishing stories that challenged the establishment. He cited the tendency of people to heap praise on Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's first president, while ignoring the government's abuse of detention powers during his rule and the mistreatment of Zanzibar, as issues that needed to be tackled.

Zanzibar, which had one of East Africa's most dynamic and politically diverse presses in the early 60s, has been ruled by the same party since the 1964 revolution. However, the archipelago is currently undergoing a process of political reconciliation following a period of uncertainty caused by elections in 2000, which the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) claims were flawed.

Commentators welcomed the arrival of a new publication in the Zanzibari media, but questioned whether the paper would be fully independent from a political ideology as well as being independent from the government.

"This is typical for the Zanzibar political scene," a don at the University of Dar es Salaam noted. "Politics on the island are highly polarised between the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and CUF, so you will find sections that are very excited, while, equally there will be those that won't even bother reading Dira."

"The publication may be seen by many as a mouthpiece for CUF, but, given the atmosphere of democratisation and reconciliation and the donor community's renewing interest in Zanzibar, I don't see the government wanting to be seen to be closing down newspapers," he concluded.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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