Yesterday, 1st February, 2023; was the anniversary of what has been designated as “Law Day” in Tanzania. It may be of interest to the current stakeholders to know that the idea of designating this particular date as Tanzania’s “Law Day”, was the brainchild of the late Chief Justice Francis Nyalali and was intended to mark the commencement of the Judiciary ‘new business year’.
For that reason the celebrations were initially confined only to members of the Judiciary Branch of Government, plus the legal fraternity and were held inside one of the court rooms within the High Court Building in Dar es Salaam. In other words, this event started as a purely Judiciary ‘in-house’ affair, intended only for those who were directly concerned.
Chief Justice Nyalali had also decided to invite the Speaker of parliament to attend these occasions, in order to symbolise participation from the Legislative Branch and for that reason, he was given the leading role of being the ‘Guest of Honour’. This happened during the time when I was the Speaker of the House, circa 1996/97.
Thus, in that connection, I can vividly remember how, on one such occasion, the Chief Justice had chosen the expression “Haki sawa kwa wote” as the “kauli mbiu” for that year’s celebrations. When my invitation to attend that function arrived and I saw that; I quickly wrote back to point out that the expression “Haki sawa kawa wote” was in fact the slogan of the CIVIC UNITED FRONT political party and showed my concern that this was inappropriate for such a national event suggesting instead the use of the neutral expression “Watu wote ni sawa mbele ya sharia”, which is also used in article 13 (1) of the Constitution of the United republic. The Chief Justice promptly agreed and the ‘Kauli Mbiu’ was changed accordingly.
But these celebrations soon developed into fully-fledged national events; when the President of the United Republic accepted the Chief Justice’s invitation to formally participate in these annual celebrations, taking over the role of Guest of honor. In other words, these occasions now became truly national events which brought together ‘under one roof’, the Heads of all the three Branches of Government; namely the Executive; the Legislative and the Judiciary commonly referred to as the three “Pillars of State governance”.
It may therefore be worthwhile for the relevant stakeholders and other interested parties to make use of the opportunity provided by these special celebrations, to make some reflections on their purpose, aims and objectives. As part of the preliminary introductory remarks, let me first briefly provide this relevant background information.
Luckily, by the grace of God, I have personally had a fairly long association with the country’s “Law sector” in the course of my service to our nation. It started right from my first appointment in the service of Parliament, immediately after my graduation at Makerere University College in Uganda, in April 1960. This was subsequently followed by my service therein as MP, Deputy Speaker and eventually Speaker of the House, between 1990 and 2005.
Since the main function of Parliament is to make laws; this gave me direct exposure to the Law sector. And this was supplemented by several other part-time appointments including that of Chairman of the Judicial System Review Commission, (1975—1977); Member of the Tanzania Law Reform Commission, (1983 – 2005) and Member of the Legal Sector Reform Task Force, (1993 1994).
The privilege of such exposure (plus, of course, my own keen interest in these matters) enabled me to acquire and accumulate, substantial experience in this particular area, which I am now happy to share with my readers of this presentation. And this now brings us to today’s main discussion.
Reflections on the ‘Law Day’ celebrations
The “kauli Mbiu” for this year’s celebrations has been given as “The importance of Conflict resolution through arbitration”. Thus, because I am operating from my retirement home in Ukerewe; I will travel down memory lane back to the colonial period, when the task of dispensing justice was shared between the colonial authorities (the District Commissioner) and the Native Authorities (the tribal Chief and his subordinates). At that time, the District Commissioner was performing his judicial functions sitting in a proper Magistrate’s court, established by law and so also did the Chief of Ukerewe and his subordinate Sub-Chiefs who also performed their judicial functions sitting in what were designated as “Native courts”, similarly established by colonial legislation.
However, there also was a lower level of the Chief’s subordinates, known as ‘Village Headmen’ who had no properly established court rooms and who were, in fact, operating the ‘arbitration system’; whose wider use is currently being advocated and strongly urged, by the Judiciary. This was their method of resolving minor conflicts and disputes among individual persons.
“To everything there is a reason and a time for every purpose under heaven”, so the Holy Bible says. In today’s presentation, we will endeavor to highlight what, I believe, were the intentions of the late Chief Justice Francis Nyalali (may his soul rest in peace), as could be discerned from my own frequent conversations with him at the material times. To the best of my recollections, the principal objective was ‘the need to draw public attention to the direct relevance, as well as the crucial importance, of ‘the law’ to the community in which it operates’.
This was important and necessary because, under the prevailing circumstances of the material times; “the law”, was not the kind of “bread-and-butter issue, that normally attract people’s attention in their everyday lives. The general layman’s view seemed to be (and probably still is), that ‘the law’ comes knocking at your door only when you have committed an offence; and further that, it is always best to avoid getting involved in other persons’ law breach court cases (mainly in order to avoid the immense trouble, and inconveniences, that are usually caused by such involvement). This, perhaps, is what partly explains the apparent reluctance, generally, among the people to serve as prosecution witnesses in criminal cases, which was noticeable in many different locations of our country, including Ukerewe, my own District. And this quickly reminds me of two frustrating incidences. One was when a prospective key witness in a corruption case, after initially spilling the beans in the said case, abruptly turned round, and flatly refused to go to court as a prosecution witness; upon being asked to do so by myself as his then Member of Parliament. Here is the true story:-
I had received reliable information that earlier on that same day, a medical doctor working at the Ukerewe District hospital (who had already earned the negative reputation of routinely seeking bribes from his patients); had on that day corruptly demanded to be given a cow by this man, as an ‘inducement’ for the said doctor to perform a life-saving operation on the man’s wife, who had failed to deliver normally. My informant further said that at that moment of his report, the victim and his cow were right there at the hospital waiting to hand over the bribe to the said doctor after the latter had completed the required operation.
As my MP’s office was situated just across the road on the opposite side of the District Hospital, I walked across to the Hospital to see for myself, the alleged cow and its owner. Both were indeed there. And, in my preliminary inquiry, the man readily confirmed the alleged facts. Pleased with this hard evidence, I then asked him to be a witness for the prosecution, in the bribery case which we were going to file in the District court right away. But on hearing that, our man suddenly changed, and declared firmly that he was not at all prepared to suffer the unnecessary troubles and inconveniences of going to court. After all, he said, this was his cow, and he was, any case, prepared to let it go, in order to save his wife and the new baby!
The other frustrating event is narrated in very minute details by the last colonial Ukerewe District Commissioner, Donald Barton, in his book titled: An Affair with Africa, Tanganyika remembered, (Authors On Line, England, 2004), In that book, the author describes, with manifest bitterness, how the prospective prosecution witnesses to a grisly murder that had been committed at Kisorya in Ukerewe in June 1959, who had “initially willingly emerged to give oral evidence (much of it circumstantial but conclusive); subsequently flatly refused to make formal statements and testify to their veracity in court” ! This situation forced the police to drop the charge, and release the culprits. “It was extremely mortifying”, the author laments.
But such stories notwithstanding; it is perhaps necessary to emphasise the fact, that ‘the law’ (including the associated rules and regulations of all sorts), do effectively direct, and control, the ordinary life of every person in very many ways, even without his/her being aware of it.
For example, the traffic rules and regulations are designed to control people’s movements on the roads; and there are similar rules and regulations for controlling people’s movements when travelling in the air, and over the waters. And the laws against trespass, have the effect of controlling people’s movements over areas of other people’s land. While there numerous other laws and regulations, which control peoples’ behavior in relation to each other; and also in relation to the environment around them. Then, of course, there are the criminal laws; which are designed to give appropriate punishment to the criminal elements in society.
In other words, people’s lives are controlled, all the time, by ‘the law’. As the saying goes: “a book of rules is placed in our cot when we are born, and we remain with it until we reach the grave”. Members of the public must be made aware of these facts; plus the subsidiary benefits that would accrue from such basic awareness of these general aims and objectives of ‘the law’, in relation to the community in which it operates; which include: the creation in a person, of enhanced capability in dealing with the diverse challenges that are generally caused solely by ‘ignorance of the law’.
It is my contention that such awareness will be greatly enhanced by this practice, of the relevant stakeholders making it their regular habit of utilising these “Law Day” celebration events to engage themselves in serious reflections on these important matters, in a properly structured manner. In my considered opinion, such awareness plays a role which is similar to that of “preventive medicine”; because it enables a person to easily recognise the ‘symptoms’ of any pending law breach, a recognition which will, hopefully, facilitate his avoidance to commit such breaches, if he really cares.
It is therefore my earnest plea to the relevant Authorities to give active consideration to this matter of organising seminars and workshops, or other instruments; which would enable interested stakeholders to come together and hold discussions, or exchange views, for the purpose of contributing to the sensitisation of the current larger numbers of the younger generation stakeholders, regarding the said original purpose, as well as the ‘aims and objectives’, of these annual ‘Law Day’ celebrations.
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