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New dawn for Tanzania’s constitutional review

Various groups including politicians, especially those in the opposition, academics and activists had for several times been pushing for constitutional changes. In his address to the nation on December 31, 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete, promised to initiate the process of re-writing the country's constitution as part of Tanzania Mainland 50th independence anniversary celebrations.


"We have agreed to start the process of reviewing our constitution ... I have hereby decided to appoint a constitutional review commission, which will be headed by a seasoned lawyer," Mr Kikwete pledged. Compared to other African countries, Tanzania had enjoyed relative  stability in a volatile continent and has held four multi-party elections since 1995. Critics, however, say the country's basic law, adopted in 1977 when Tanzania was under one-party rule, favours CCM and denies citizens fundamental rights and liberties.

Opposition leaders want to limit presidential powers, introduce electoral reforms and allow independent candidates to stand for parliament and as president. Other demands include change in the law to allow presidential results to be challenged in courts of law and establishment of an independent electoral commission. "We have inherited the existing constitution from the founders of our nation ... we need a new constitution that will guide our nation to the next 50 years by safeguarding peace, national unity and greater development," said Mr Kikwete.

The Constitution Review Bill was moved in the National Assembly in April, last year and after spirited debate in the House and outside, it was passed in November. A few weeks later President Kikwete signed it into law. Addressing the nation on New Year's Eve, (December 31, 2011), the President promised to appoint members of the commission during the first quarter of 2012.

He said that the commission is expected to start collecting people's views throughout the country during the last quarter of 2012, and conclude the process late 2013. "The goal is to have a new constitution by April 2014, at the time when Tanzania will marking the 50th anniversary of the union," he noted. This will be the fourth constitution since independence from Britain in December 1961.

In 1962, the then Tanganyika promulgated Republican Constitution, followed by the Interim Constitution of 1965, after the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, as well as adoption of the one-party democracy. The country finally enacted the Constitution of the United Republic in 1977. During the British administration, the then Tanganyika was government by the Order in Council. The order came into force on January 10, 1920. It followed the defeat of Germany in the First World War (WWI).

The WWI defeat led into the Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany, signed at Versailles on June 28, 1919. Under the Treaty Germany renounced in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her Oversea possessions, including what was then known as Germany East Africa.

President Kikwete reiterated in the New Year message that the proposed  Constitution was aimed at consolidating the gains made by the country during the last five decades and lead the nation deeper into the 21st century. He repeatedly declared during the 50th anniversary celebrations that the nation made significant achievements since independence, particularly maintaining peace and national unity, something that eluded many African countries during the period.

Many African countries witnessed endless wars, assassination of leaders, coup d'etats, civil unrest and cross-border conflicts. Tanzania had always been at peace with itself and neighbours, save for the Kagera War against Uganda's Idi Amini forces of aggression in the late 1970s. President Kikwete called upon Tanzanians from all walks of life to take part in the process of re-writing the new constitution as opposed to few individuals or groups bent at hijacking the process.

"We want to prepare the constitution for all Tanzania. The constitution that will guide this nation to prosperity and consolidate national unity, peace and tranquility in accordance to the demands of the 21st century," the president stressed. Several religious leaders have also called for popular participation in  the process and urged vigilance against evil and greedy elements likely to manipulate the national agenda.

Some academics have cited several clauses in the constitution and other laws said to be infringing on the people's rights. For example there are those pushing for independent candidates, abolition of death penalty and right to peaceful demonstration and assembly. There are those who want appointments of top government officials such as ministers, chief justice, attorney general, controller and auditor general and head of revenue authority to be endorsed by parliamentary committees as is the case in the United States.

Some activists are demanding harmonisation of the Union and Zanzibar constitutions. For example, the Union constitution still recognises the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council and zanzibar Revolutionary Government (SMZ) at the time when there is the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zanzibar. There is also lack of clarity as to role and authority of the zanzibar House of Representatives and Zanzibar Revolutionary Council -- both are constitutionally principal advisory organs of the Isles government.

SOMETIME in June 1996, as ...

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Author: JOHN KULEKANA

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