Potholes in roadmap to Tanzania's Constitutional Review Commission

Potholes in roadmap to Tanzania's Constitutional Review Commission

The main opposition party, CHADEMA, with support from other members of the opposition, together with voices of activists from civil society organisations,rallied against the president signing the bill into law. To demonstrate their displeasure those who opposed the Bill boycotted sessions that discussed the Bill claiming that the conduct of the Assembly was not favourable to differing voices. They also tried to make their case elsewhere- to the populace.

CHADEMA eventually lost after the president decided to sign the bill soon after receiving the chief opposition leadership in an attempt to quell the mounting displeasure over how the government as choosing to take on perhaps one of the defining projects for Tanzania in this millennium. Then there is the process of constitution making.

Civil society organisations and particularly the Constitutional Forum or Jukwaa la Katiba moved quickly to mobilise support around a more inclusive and participatory system of consultation to inform the constitution. Although the preliminary process that would put the Tanzanian population on course to drafting a new constitutions was fraught with deep mistrust different camps emphasized different issues and none presented a single view of what was happening as opposed to what ought to happen.

It would thus be incorrect to assume that all of those who were opposing the bill agreed on the points of contention. What was, however, similar in the demand was the need for an inclusive and participatory constitution making process. I want to emphasize this point that there is a difference between making a constitution and writing a constitution and this is a nuance that the ruling party and those who generally wanted to see the process of churning a new constitution for Tanzania off the ground at any cost.

Thus their perception is that to churn out a new constitution it is enough to collect views, analyse them and collate them into a single document. Perhaps in anticipation to deflect the poor light in which the President’s action was seen and receive, State House issued an assurance that the government would continue to receive and accommodate views and recommendations from the public at all stages of this process hence Tanzanian should freely air their views by the means that have been provided for by law.

To suggest that views will be received and those deemed worthy accommodated suggests a vetting process that is hardly democratic. Its implication is that in the end people would have gone through the motions of venting their concerns without them having the benefit of channeling the same towards constructive resolutions or compromise. This type of engagement does not do justice to the concept of meaningful participation which I shall return to in the course of this discussion.

Marc Wegerif, a long time land and economic justice activist presently with Oxfam International for the Horn, East and Central Africawhile commenting on questions land in constitution making argues that a process as rich and engaging (of constitution making) needs to be established in any country now drafting a new constitution to ensure not just good content, but also a commitment of citizens to the constitution that is finally agreed.

I want to argue that if the objective is to interview citizens the way we do when we do our household budget surveys or census it does not make them partners in the process or committed to the process of doing a census. For them it is an exercise to be done and gotten over with. It is not something that they will live with or impacted by, or embrace. Certainly a constitution making process should be different. After all it is essentially about the will of Tanzanians: what is the nature of the state they want?

How will they govern themselves as opposed to how will they be governed? How will they relate to one another bearing in mind diversity of origin, opinions, ideology, belief, cultures, ability etc.? As a rule the result of any endeavor is determined by great measure by the means used to achieve it. In the end, one cannot say that the Tanzania Constitution will reflect the will and aspirations of its citizens if the process from the start has failed to make the issue participation a central ethos informing the overall process of constitution making.

While these key issues have not yet been properly considered it is extremely worrying to hear the president suggest during his annual cocktail gathering at state House, that the Constitutional Review Commission will soon start collecting public views on a new constitution even though the composition of the Commission is yet to be named. The culture in naming commissions is to name technocrats or politicians who are more conscious of rules and less so of process; of image and not so much of substance.

Being products of authoritarian systems, and this is true even if they come from disciplines such as law or engineering as long as he governing culture in their professional socialization is not democratic but conservative; not creative but prescriptive, it is hard to imagine how this process can be transformative in the overall culture of how Tanzania constitutes itself, envisions its future and addresses the question of the location of power on the one hand and exercise of power on the other which after all is at the heart of any constitutional discussion.

Author: Salma Maoulidi

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