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Will a new constitution be Kikwete’s befitting legacy?

It’s not quite clear whether or not the new document would come out in time for the 2014 elections. But, no matter… Perhaps more important: Presidential, Parliamentary and Council elections will be conducted the following year — in good time for them to be conducted under the new Constitution.

As it happens, Kikwete’s been spearheading the movement, announcing on Apr. 6 the team that’ll scour the country to garner views, suggestions and proposals from Tanzanians of all walks of life, on what kind of Constitution should replace the 1977 Union Constitution, as amended from time to time.

The envisaged ‘Mother of All Laws’ comes 37 years after its ‘predecessor’ was promulgated. That itself is of little or no consequence… Many a country has had a national Constitution for much longer without replacing same — including the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, whose Constitution dates back to the 18th Century! However, Tanzania’s case for a new Constitution at this point in time is richly justified.

Thst’s especially taking into account the major changes the country has undergone in social, economic and political terms. These include — but aren’t limited to — the transformation from a socialist-oriented, State-run economy to a private sector-led mode; a multi-party political system re-adopted in 1992 after single party politics which commenced in earnest in 1965; and, most recently, a Govt. of National Unity in the other ‘half’ of the United Republic, Zanzibar, involving the ruling Party of the Revolution CcM and the Civic United Front (CUF).

Assorted stakeholders have also been calling for a new Constitution on diverse grounds. Admittedly, these columns mightn’t be the right forum in which to cite some of the grounds advanced by the pronew Constitution supporters. The ideal forum is, of course, the newly-formed Presidential Constitution Commission charged with the task of collecting proposals countrywide.

This notwithstanding, however, it must also be admitted that there’s an overwhelming temptation to articulate at any and every opportunity inadequacies in the current Constitution that tend to cut across the norms of ideal Democracy. For instance, the results of a presidential election, once declared by the National Electoral Commission, cannot be challenged even in a properly-constituted Court of Law...!

Furthermore, candidates can conceivably ‘win’ the Presidency by less than a 50% ‘majority’ of the valid votes cast! Aspirants for elected posts must have the unequivocal support/sponsorship of a fully-registered political party — not just stand as ‘Independent Candidates!’ And so on; and so forth… The 30-strong Constitution Commission is chaired by (retired) Judge Joseph Warioba, a veteran politician, legal-eagle and champion of human rights — both natural and constitutional. Half the members come from Zanzibar; the remaining half from the other half of the Union!

Critics have noted the absence of vocal activists on the Team. One of the ‘conspicuous absentees’ is Prof. Issa Shivji, a veteran of various Commissions in the past, including Land and Constitutional reform [The Guardian: Apr. 7, 2012]. Another is Deus Kibamba, chairman of the Tanzania Constitution Forum, and several other human rights activists. But then, what’d one expect when only 30 Commissioners were to be picked out of 550+ submissions from a broad spectrum of interests?

Those who never made it onto the Team should take full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the Commission, and submit their proposals in due course of time and events. What’s important here’s that Tanzania has finally embarked on the road to a new Constitution. The Commission will do the job in 18 months.

When a Doubting Thomas queried this — noting that it took Kenya two decades to come out with its 2010 Constitution — Kikwete wittily responded that ‘Kenya is Kenya; this is Tanzania!’ What confidence; what bravura on the part of the president! In My Book of Things, the Constitution Commission is about the best piece of news in recent times when Tanzania has been underwhelmed by distractive reports of the AruMeru-Mashariki by-election, and the Arusha-Urban Constituency petition against the 2010 results.

While both developments had a relatively hollow, ephemeral twang to them, the Constitutional Review is pregnant with hope for ordinary Tanzanians. What remains to crown the exercise is for President Kikwete to follow through with disinterested diligence and prudence so that, at the end of it all, the man will’ve made a lasting footprint, a worthy legacy of his Presidency. Cheers!


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