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Other significant events during my Speakership

Continued from last week

THE other most significant events during my first fiveyear term as Speaker of the National Assembly (1995 – 2000), include the following:

(i) The vexatious election petition case filed against me;

(ii) My leadership engagement with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association;

(iii) The formation of new Pan-African Parliamentary Institutions and

(iv) The death of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the Father of the nation.

The vexatious election petition case

One Sylvester Masinde, my CHADEMA opponent in the 1995 Parliamentary elections in the Ukerewe constituency, having been dissatisfied with his defeat at the polls, wantonly decided to file an election petition, in a vexatious attempt to undo my victory at those elections.

He deservedly lost the case at the High Court. Dissatisfied one more time, he filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, where he lost again, and was ordered to pay the costs of the case. One of his misguided complaints, was that I had continued to pay for the construction of certain infrastructure projects in the constituency during the election year itself; which, he claimed, constituted ‘bribery’ to the voters.

In the Court of Appeal judgment read by Chief Justice Francis Nyallali, the Court ruled that “an incumbent MP has an obligation to carry out all his duties and responsibilities, and to offer all necessary services to his constituents, even during election year, until the time when Parliament is actually dissolved, when his membership of Parliament ceases”.

My leadership engagement with the CPA

By some lucky coincidence, a vacancy had occurred in the membership of the CPA international Executive Committee, relating to the representation of the Africa region on that Committee. Thus, unexpectedly, in April 1996, I received a letter from the CPA Secretary General informing me that I had been nominated to fill that vacancy, for a period of three years.

At the expiry of that period in 1999, I got encouragement from several colleagues on that Committee, to stand for election as its Chairman, for the ensuing three-year term. I was persuaded by that encouragement, and went ahead to compete for the post.

There were two other candidates aspiring for election to the same post, one from the Canadian Region; and the other from Gibraltar in the European Region. The first round of voting at the annual conference of the CPA which was held in Trinidad and Tobago; did not produce a winner.

The candidate from Gibraltar was eliminated, leaving the Canadian candidate and myself to compete in the second round; which I won handsomely.

The formation of new Pan-African Parliamentary institutions Also during this period, obviously by sheer coincidence, two Pan-African Organizations resolved to establish their Parliamentary wings; as follows:-

(i) The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), which authorized the formation of the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) in 1977, with headquarters located in Windhoek. This was in accordance with article 9(2) of the SADC establishment Agreement. The Tanzania Parliament became a member of the SADC Parliamentary Forum the same year.

(ii) The African Union (AU), which authorized the formation of the Pan- African Parliament (PAP) in 2004, with headquarters located at Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; in accordance with article 17 of the “Constitutive Act of the African Union”; which became effective on 11th July, 2000; after having been signed by the all the 53 AU member countries.

(iii) The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which was established in 1998; under the provisions of article 9 of the Agreement establishing the East African Community.

The methodology adopted for their formation was that in each case, that task to consider and submit appropriate proposals and recommendation to the relevant Authority, was given to the relevant CPA institution in the Africa Region.

Thus, regarding the SADC-PF; the CPA Branches in the SADC countries undertook that responsibility; and established a small sub-committee to undertake that task. Similarly in the case of the PAP, the CPA Branches in the Africa Region decided to establish a small sub-committee for that purpose.

I found myself in each of these subcommittees. Apparently, my colleagues had taken due consideration of my senior position as a member of the International Executive Committee representing the Africa Region, and decided to place me on these important ad hoc committees.

My contribution to the formation of these new Pan- African Parliamentary institutions, was therefore quite substantial, and memorable.

The suffering and death of the Father of the nation

It was during the month of August, 1999, when I became aware of Mwalimu Nyerere’s illness while he was at his Butiama home.

I had gone to Butiama to deliver to him, our Parliament’s valuable retirement gift, namely, the complete set of books titled “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, which Parliament had resolved to give him on his retirement from the Presidency, in recognition of his widely acknowledged talents as a scholar and an intellectual.

That is when I found Mwalimu suffering , and in great pain. He told me that he had accepted President Mkapa’s advice to go to London for treatment. My next contact with Mwalimu Nyerere was when he was receiving treatment in London.

The date was 25th September, 1999, when I was on my way back from Trinidad and Tobago, where I had gone to attend the annual CPA conference that elected me Chairman of the International CPA Executive Committee. When I met him, he had been discharged from St. Thomas hospital, and was staying at a rented apartment, continuing to receive treatment as an out-patient.

I had travelled to the CPA conference together with my wife Anna Abdallah, and we were together when we visited Mwalimu Nyerere at his London apartment . On arrival there, we were ushered into his bedroom, where he was resting in the company of his wife mama Maria.

I spent just about an hour chatting with Mwalimu Nyerere like old friends, on a variety of matters; with our wives listening. He first explained, with a light touch, how he was missing his regular uji wa ulezi, his favourite breakfast item which made us laugh in amusement.

He then turned to more serious subjects, by enquiring about the performance of the new Official Opposition in Parliament, and I gave him an extended briefing on that.

Eventually, he told me about his desire and anxiety to get back home quickly, in order to continue with his mediation efforts in the Burundi internal conflict. Thereafter, me and my wife departed, and went straight to the airport, to catch our connecting British Airways flight back to Dar es Salaam.

Mwalimu Nyerere’ death

But then came the shocking news. Mwalimu Nyerere’s condition had suddenly deteriorated in the afternoon of that same day. He had stopped talking, and had to be rushed back to St. Thomas hospital for re-admission. Sadly, he did not regain his speech until the day he died, 14th October 1999.

His death was announced by President Benjamin Mkapa, in an early morning broadcast to the nation. President Mkapa also gave me the singular honour of asking me personally, to prepare and read Mwalimu Nyerere’s eulogy, on the official day appointed for the public ceremony of paying last respects to the body of the departed Tanzania’s Baba wa Taifa; which was also attended by a large assembly of Heads of State, and other distinguished former leaders of their respective nations.

His death was mourned not only in Tanzania, but also around the whole world, by the most humble, as well as the mot exalted personalities. It is particularly gratifying that the Catholic Church in Tanzania has decided to embark on the usually long process for his canonization, which commenced with special prayers held at his grave in Butiama, on 21st January, 2006.

And on 5th March, 2010, His Holiness the Pope in an announcement from the Vatican, formally declared and elevated the late Mwalimu Nyerere to the status of “Servant of God”; which is a significant first step in the canonization process. This completes the story of events during my first five-year term in the office of Speaker.

Significant events during my second term

My second term in the office of Speaker, started with the 2000 general elections; when I happily sailed through the Speaker’s election completely unchallenged, neither from within the Ruling party, nor from the Opposition parties.

In those pleasant circumstances, I invited the Speaker of the British House of Commons, Hon. Miss Betty Boothroyd, to attend my swearing-in ceremony in Dodoma, which she kindly accepted, and graciously attended. It was, indeed, a very auspicious start to my new term.

But an even greater surprise was to come my way shortly afterwards. It was when President Mkapa chose to hand over to me, the name of his nominee for the Premiership the day before voting day.

And when he was doing so, he surprisingly decided to even explain how he had arrived at his choice, an extraordinary display of trust in me! He said that in his experience, “the smooth running and success of Government business in Parliament, largely depends on the relationship between the Speaker, and the Prime Minister.

If these are not cordial, Government business is bound to suffer. I have been observing your manifest close friendship with the outgoing Prime Minister, especially from the way you frequently socialize together in your Speaker’s Lounge. It is on that basis, that I have decided to reappoint Fredrick Sumaye”.

This second term was generally devoted to the continuation of efforts to ensure the effective functioning of the multi-party Parliament.

Another of the new multi-party Parliament challenges, was created by the 2000 general elections, which produced a negative “balance sheet” for the Opposition parties, which obtained a combined strength of only 29 parliamentary seats, and this fell short of the minimum number of 30 MPs required for them to qualify to be allowed to form the Official Opposition in Parliament.

I was of the settled view, that a multi-party Parliament always needs an Official Opposition, for its proper and efficient functioning. Thus, I had to do something to rescue the situation. I therefore decided, and ruled, that the relevant Rules be amended, so as to reduce the minimum number required (for the opposition to qualify to form the Official Opposition), from 30 MPs, down to 20 MPs.

This was done, which enabled CUF to form a coalition with UDP, to establish the Official Opposition, with John Cheyo (MP) of UDP being the leader of the Opposition.

But then, because CUF had disputed the Zanzibar Presidential election results, they decided (unreasonably) to demonstrate their dissatisfaction and anger, by ordering their members of both the Zanzibar House of Representatives, and those of the Union Parliament, to boycott all the sessions of these Houses respectively.

Hence, ironically, John Cheyo was forced to function as leader of an absentee 17-strong CUF battalion!

However, in compliance with the Rules of both these Institutions (which prescribe appropriate punishments for such errant MPs); all of them simultaneously lost their membership of Parliament (and of the Zanzibar House of Representatives), in April, 2002; for the offence of having failed to attend three consecutive meetings without the Speaker’s permission.

Will be continued next week. piomsekwa@gmail.com

Author: Pius Msekwa

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