A few days ago, hundreds academicians, technocrats, politicians and members of a general public, held a consultative meeting here in Mwanza City to discuss the Constitution Review Act of 2011 which was amended early this year. Participants strongly think that the population in general has little knowledge on the Constitution Review Act and on other pertinent issues.
One resident, Mr Augustine Nyakatoma said, “Most people, particularly those in rural areas are not even aware of the current constitution, let alone the Constitutional Review Act of 201. In January, last year, President Jakaya Kikwete pledged to call a referendum for a new constitution and also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ensure the new constitution will be in place by the year 2014, a year before the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
As part of the preparations, the Tanzania National Assembly passed the Constitutional Review Bill on November 18, 2011 and the President accented it into a Law just a week later. However, President Kikwete reiterated that the government would not close its doors to constructive opinions and suggestions from the people.
Following an overwhelming views and opinions from various segments of the society, the government early February, this year proposed some amendments that were presented to the National Assembly for approval. Experts think that intensified public awareness should be directed at the rural population, “If we are not careful we may just find the entire process hijacked by elites who reside in urban areas,” says a Mwanza city resident, Mr Elias Lwanchele.
Igogo ward executive officer, Nyamagana district, Joseph urges relevant authorities to take pragmatic measures in addressing the matter as, “I think the government itself needs to take a lead in this exercise and other players would follow suit.” Several sections of the Bill, for example, came under fire for what critics regarded as strict restrictions in discussing some “sensitive matters,” such as the union between Zanzibar and the Tanzania mainland.
Critics argue that such limitations could deny the public of their “absolute right” to express their views and opinions and “I think people, should be allowed to discuss the 1964 union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar and ultimately decide on the type of union the people would prefer to have,” said one speaker.
The new Act also allows the president in consultation with the president of Zanzibar to select members of the commission that would oversee collection of people’s views and opinions on the proposed constitution. “We think NGOs, trade unions, religious institutions, political parties, academics, need to have their own selections and representation in the envisaged commission,” said Mr Lubale.
Mr Abubakar Kassan, the Executive Director of Nyamagana NGO Network reiterates the need for the general public to refrain from discussing what he described as trivial issues. “Let us focus on fundamental issues that will determine the destiny of our country. The president has agreed to give us the opportunity to discuss the Constitution, so let us make meaningful contributions,” Kassan said.
In his monthly address to the nation in February this year, President Kikwete urged Tanzanians to fully participate on the on-going processes toward writing a new constitution in the country. Mr Kassan also shared same sentiments as saying, “Let us read and try to understand the current constitution and come out with relevant suggestions aimed at improving it. The task of educating the public shouldn’t be left to the government alone and on the contrary every one of us must play an active role in this exercise.” Mr Kassan also calls on media practitioners to educate the people on matters pertaining to the constitution.