Thousands of Christians in Tanzania reportedly have been banned from voting in the East African country’s upcoming general elections. The Watch Tower church in Kitika village has forbidden its more than 4,000 worshippers from participating in the Oct. 25 polls, alleging it is against their religious teachings, the Tanzania Daily News reported Tuesday.
One of the church’s spiritual leaders, Jonas Simulunga, told the Tanzanian newspaper the followers had been barred from voting in all elections since the country gained independence in 1961. The Watch Tower churchgoers were also banned from joining political parties, running for office and donating blood, which is considered a “sin,” Simulunga said.
The Watch Tower church was founded by self-appointed “Pope” Enock Sindani and its universal headquarters are located in Kitika along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Branches of the church were set up in other locations on the African continent, including neighboring Zambia. Simulunga said the followers at the Zambia Watch Tower church were also barred from voting.
Four opposition parties have joined forces to take on Tanzania’s ruling Party of Revolution, known by the acronym CCM, in the upcoming presidential election. The ruling party, which has governed for five decades, announced last month it had nominated public works minister John Pombe Magufuli as its presidential candidate. Magufuli appears to be the favorite to replace Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who was in office for the maximum two terms, according to the Associated Press.
Christian separatist leader Elliott Kamwana introduced the so-called Watch Tower movement to sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1900s. Kamwana was inspired by the teachings of Charles Taze Russell, a religious leader who started the Jehovah’s Witnesses and its official religious body, Watch Tower Society. After becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, Kamwana established a branch church known as the Watch Tower in Malawi in 1906, according to the Dictionary of African Historical Biography.
Within three years, the religious leader had baptized 10,000 followers. Kamwana preached the end of colonialism and that Christ’s second coming would abolish hut taxes and banish Europeans from the African continent. British colonial authorities deported Kamwana from Malawi to South Africa and banned the Watch Tower movement. But the churches secretly continued his teachings and the movement spread into modern-day Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, apparently, Tanzania.