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In the service of my nation as Director of Elections

In the service of my nation as Director of Elections

I WAS taken by surprise when my video clip, taken decades ago by a British journalist representing the London based British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), started circulating again in some of the social media platforms last week.

I first saw that particular clip myself, when it made its first rounds in the same platforms about two years ago. It had also been seen by many of my friends and colleagues, some of whom called me to express their appreciation of my fluency in the use of the English language which is demonstrated in that clip.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised when last week, another friend forwarded that same video clip to me. It was, apparently, his first time to see it; and he was anxious to know the background to that video, and, in particular, the importance of the occasion which caused it to be filmed at that time. I quickly travelled ‘down memory lane”, and put together for him the memoirs surrounding that particular event; which was the 1965 general election.

I subsequently thought that this narrative would be of some historical interest to the present generation of Tanzanians, and thus decided to make it the subject of today’s article.

The background to the 1965 general election That particular general election attracted an amazing amount of interest and skepticism from political stakeholders from many parts of the world.

Thus, hordes of international journalists descended on our country, basically in order to observe the fairness, or lack of it, of the entire election process; which was the first one to be held under the “one-party” constitution; which, for them, was itself a strange political phenomenon.

I had already discovered the extent and depth of such skepticism, through my working relationships with the British Chief Parliamentary Draftsman, Paul Fifoot; who was, undoubtedly, a brilliant lawyer; but the assignment of drafting the new parliamentary elections law under the circumstances of a “one-party democracy”, apparently gave him considerable tension; especially regarding the provisions that were to govern the nomination of parliamentary candidates by that sole political party (TANU).

He was apprehensive worried, that the party would be inclined to favour its officials, at the expense of the unknown ordinary party members who might wish to participate in this election; and he was determined to find a way of preventing this from happening, through legal prohibitions.

He had settled on including a provision which would compel the party to nominate two candidate for each constituency, in order to ensure that there would be competition in every constituency.

But this limitation to only two candidates, gave him another problem, namely how to discourage an unscrupulous ambitious candidate, from deliberately causing the death of the other candidate, for the simple desire of himself being elected unopposed.

So he was thinking of including another provision, which would make it compulsory, in the event of death of one of the candidates, for the entire election process to commence de novo.

But he was not sure whether these provisions would receive the approval of the National Assembly, since all of its members were TANU members, supposedly keenly interested in getting an easy ride in the election.

Hence he wanted my candid opinion, in my capacity as Clerk of the National Assembly, for he assumed that I was in a position to know the MPs general idiosyncrasies.

I confidently encouraged him to go ahead with his proposals, and that gave considerable relief to his apparently ‘troubled’ mind. In order for our readers to appreciate better the special character of the 1965 general election, and particularly its parliamentary election component, it appears necessary to give the constitutional background on the basis of which this election was held.

The One-party Constitution The relevant information is that the British colonialists had a fixed policy and procedure of imposing constitutions on all those countries to whom they were granting independence; and all such Constitutions were enacted in London by the British Parliament, and only imported into the relevant recipient country.

Tanganyika was no exception to that rule; and the Tanganyika Independence (multi-party) Constitution was similarly enacted by the British Parliament, and later imported into Tanganyika.

On his part however, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was deeply convinced, that the multi-party system was detrimental to the building of unity among the people of young nations that were just emerging from the yoke of colonialism, like Tanganyika at that time.

This is evidenced by his 1961 article, in which he argued the disadvantages of the multi-party system in the following words :- “A two party system (like the British system) can be justified only if the parties are divided over some fundamental issue or issues.

For otherwise, it merely encourages the growth of factionalism. If both these parties have the interests of the people at heart, it would be more sensible if they were to let the electorate choose the best individuals from among them, and let the chosen ones meet in Parliament to discuss the details of how the job of achieving the desired objectives should be done, and thereafter cooperate fully in getting it done” And, following his experience of the two preindependence general elections of 1958/59 and 1960, in which the vast majority of TANU candidates were elected unopposed, resulting in the disenfranchisement of the electorate in the relevant constituencies; Nyerere considered this to be a denial of the people’s democratic rights of choosing the leaders of their own free choice.

And this is actually what made him decide to introduce a ‘one-party’ constitution; in which competitive elections would be held without necessarily causing any serious harm to national political solidarity and unity.

Consequently, soon after he had assumed power as President of the Republic of Tanganyika on December 9th, 1962; he quickly initiated the process of making the ‘One-party state” Constitution, which was completed on 10th July, 1965, when the desired Constitution was enacted. Hence, the 1965 parliamentary elections were held under the provisions of this new Constitution.

It is precisely for this reason, that the said election generated widespread interest in many countries of the world, and brought in the horde of international journalists mentioned above.

They concentrated mostly on my office as Director of Elections, to observe the preparations which were being made for this historic, ‘one-party democracy’ parliamentary election. And that is when the BBC crew filmed the short video clip which, surprisingly, has gained such popularity in the social media.

On that occasion, I was explaining to that crew, in their own native English language, the simple nature of the voting card which had been designed for that election.

But I also had to answer numerous questions about how we were going to ensure that the election would in fact be fair and just, in view of the great likelihood of favouritism being practiced by the only political party in the playing field.

Thus, I had to explain at rather great length, the elaborate mechanisms that had been included in the parliamentary election statute; which would enabled the electoral commission to effectively supervise every stage of the election process, and in particular the nomination and campaign processes.

These were to be undertaken by the party only in the presence of the Electoral commission Chairman, together with the Director of Elections. I explained further that the election law had also made specific provisions which would ensure fairness to both candidates.

For example, every election campaign meeting had to be undertaken only in the presence of “supervisory delegates” appointed by the Electoral Commission, and were responsible only to the commission.

The commission had also been given power to nullify any stage of the election process, which did not comply with the provisions of the law. Now, regarding my fluency in the English language (which has been appreciated by my friends who commented on the said video clip); I can only say that this was perhaps a favoured gift from the almighty God; for, as will be revealed in my just completed autobiography book; it is the same English language fluency and clarity of expression, that impressed the relevant British employers, who readily gave me temporary school vacation jobs, when I was still a student.

An ‘independent’ Electoral Commission Article 82 (1) of the 1965 ‘one-party Constitution had established an ‘independent’ electoral commission, consisting of :- (a) the Speaker of the National Assembly, who shall be Chairman; (b) not less than three, nor more than five members, who shall be appointed by the President.

The fact that the Speaker of the National Assembly was the Chairman of the Electoral Commission had effectively placed the responsibility for the entire administration and management of national elections on the then tiny staff of the Speaker’s Office. (At that time, consisting of only two senior staff members, namely the Clerk of the National Assembly (myself), and the Clerk-Assistant, Yasin Osman; who were accordingly appointed, respectively, as Director and Assistant Director of elections.

And we alone had to carry the entire burden of organizing and managing, and indeed, the carrying out all other duties that were necessary for achievement of a successful general election.

Fortunately for us, the whole Administrative machinery of the Civil Service in the Regions and Districts had been ordered by their superiors, to give first priority to the management of the election process in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The two of us were therefore not alone in this venture. My pleasant memories of that unique exercise.

The re-appearance of the video clip referred to above, has brought back my very fond memories of that particular event. The international journalists were apparently completely satisfied with what they had seen and observed, and decided to produce a video documentary of that whole process.

Arrangements were subsequently made for that video documentary to be watched by all the relevant government leaders and stakeholders; including President Nyerere himself, Vice President Rashidi Kawawa, and myself, the Director of Elections.

That video documentary appears to have been my “fortune cookie”, which brought the “goddess of fortune” to smile on me ! Because, very soon after President Nyerere had viewed that clip, I received a letter from the Civil Service Department, informing me that they had “been directed by the President” to upgrade my position of Clerk of the National Assembly, to the high level of Permanent Secretary in a Ministry. Indeed, “fortes fortuna iuvat” (fortune favours the brave).

And when President Nyerere came to Karimjee Hall to perform his constitutional function of inaugurating the newly elected National Assembly, he included the following kind remarks in his speech :- “Bwana Spika, mzigo mkubwa zaidi wa uchaguzi huu ulukuwa kwako mheshimiwa Spika; na hasa kwa Makatibu wawili wa Bunge hili, Katibu wa Bunge, na msaidizi wake. Kazi yote hii kubwa ilifanyika vizuri sana, na kama kulikuwa na hitilafu, zilikuwa ni ndogo mno. Kwa hakika, uchaguzi huu umetuachia mafundisho mengi sana, iwapo sisi wenyewe tutakuwa tayari kuyazingatia”.

However, I must admit that this was the result of the absolutely sincere dedication that was invested in this election project by all the government functionaries who were assigned specific jobs to carry out; to whom I am therefore much obliged for the resulting beneficial personal rewards that were granted to me.

piomsekwa@gmail.com / 0754767576

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As always, I had a dream…….and in ...

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Author: PIUS MSEKWA

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