Dar es Salaam. As the General Election approaches- about two years from now- and as the voices calling for the revival of the stalled new constitution-writing process, the question which remains unanswered is whether it is feasible to have the new constitution before the next elections.
The government has already distanced itself from the debate saying that it has no plans of resuming the process in the near future because “the fifth phase government’s main focus is on the provision of social services and the creation of an industrial economy.” This is despite reports showing that two out of three Tanzanians think that it is important for the country to get a new constitution, according to a recent study by advocacy group Twaweza issued in October 19 last year.
‘We could’ve saved many’
From social media and interactive platforms to forums and workshops voices have become louder calling for the constitution-making process to resume immediately with others pointing out that without the new constitution in place the coming General Election risk being volatile.
Sceptics say the incidence of violence and irregularities that occurred in the parliamentary by-elections of Kinondoni and Siha constituencies are a reflection of what might happen in 2020 if the new Katiba is not in place.
“Had the new constitution been a priority,” notes Carol Ndosi, entrepreneur and social commentator, in her open letter to President John Magufuli which went viral on social media, “we could have escaped many.”
Is it feasible for the country to get a new constitution before the 2020 general election? The prospects seem gloomy, at least for now.
This, according to opinions of various stakeholders, is partly because the issue of new constitution is not the government’s agenda.
“Experience shows,” says Jenerali Ulimwengu, a High Court advocate and veteran journalist, “that for something to be done in this country it must be an agenda of the government and the President for that matter.”
This argument is quite convincing considering the fact that it was the former president Jakaya Kikwete who initiated the process of writing the new constitution in 2012. He formed the Constitutional Review Commission under Judge Joseph Warioba which then came with a draft constitution. This document was watered down by the Constituent Assembly the fact that led to a walkout by the opposition CA members who had just formed an umbrella organisation called Ukawa [the Coalition of Defenders of the People’s Constitution]. The CA under the chairmanship of former Speaker of the national assembly the late Samuel Sitta, continued with the process and produced the Proposed Constitution. The referendum, which was supposed to give people the opportunity to accept or reject the document could not take place.
But all credit for the stalled process, for better or worse, went to former President Kikwete, who surprised even the most senior caders in his party when he initiated it.
With the government already ruled out that the issue of new constitution isn’t a priority, Ulimwengu is convinced that it cannot be available. This is simply because the government in place doesn’t want it, he notes. “We have a President who thinks he can ‘straighten’ the country without the new constitution,” Mr Ulimwengu says.
If the process of writing the new constitution is to be revived, he suggests, then the government should be forced to take it as its agenda.
Constitution to curb election volatility
Having a new constitution in place could save may and do the country a big favour, notes Prof Mwesiga Baregu, who happened to be a member of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC).
Justifying the need for having the new constitution now before the General Election, Prof Baregu says that experience shows elections tend to be volatile if they are marred with irregularities.
Among the reasons attributed to neighbouring Kenya’s 2007/2008 post-election violence is the fact that the country entered a highly contested General Election with a weak constitution.
Eventually, Kenya rewrote their constitution in 2010 and the next 2013, 2017 and the repeat poll of 2018 were as less volatile as the 2007 one.
“We can avoid a situation like the Kenyan one in 2007. We really do not have to replicate this experience,” notes Mr Baregu. It’s because of this urgency that having the new constitution in place now makes much sense.
Speaking on the feasibility of having the constitution now before the coming General Election, Prof Baregu says the most important thing is the political will to do it.
Baregu is sickened with the government’s utterances that the issue of new constitution isn’t its priority.
He says that as long as it the people’s priority the government doesn’t have an option.
“In any democratic country,” he says, “power and authority come from the people.”
This is true to any country which brands itself as democratic, including Tanzania except that, “the government makes it known that it sees the democratic principles that founded it are no longer fit.”
He adds that he’s saddened to come across people who use simple arguments to respond to complex issues. “We need to find out ways of building consensus among all political parties on how to get ourselves out of this mud-meddled situation,” he suggests.
A huge advantage
Mr Hamad Salim, a Political Science lecturer at the Open University of Tanzania, is of the opinion that it might not be feasible to get a new constitution before the 2020 General Election.
“The possibility of having the new constitution before 2020 General Election is very limited because of the fact that those in the government deem it unnecessary,” he says.
The issue is more complicated considering the fact that the whole process was associated with an individual person, the former president Jakaya Kikwete, and was not in the long-term government plans.
When another president came, says Salim, he found no importance of taking up the process to its completion. But he says that both the government and the ruling party, CCM, are wrong and are committing grave mistakes by not according the process due attention.
“The de-facto guardians of the process who ultimately dumped it.”
If there was a political will, something that according to him is lacking among the ruling class now, Mr Salim says that the country was best poised to complete the process considering the peaceful atmosphere that the country enjoys.
“This is a huge advantage to us,” he offers. He suggests that there’s no need to wait until things start to go upside down.
Ulimwengu says that once President Magufuli deems the resuming of process of writing new constitution necessary, he can pick the last CRC’s draft and the Proposed Constitution passed and find ways, through the advice of constitution experts, to amalgamate the two.
“We don’t have to wait until we face a dangerous situation to initiate a constitutional process,” he offers.
He warns that it dangerous for the people to demand something, which is their right, and those in authority of delivering it to ignore the calls.
It’s better that the government listens to its people, he advises, so that it can avoid any peace breaking incidents which would come later following its negligence.
Prof Baregu’s suggestion, which is supported by Mr Salim, is that if the government is committed to having a new constitution it can formulate a team of experts, wherever they can be found, even from outside Tanzania. These should then can carry out consultation with stakeholders on constitution making and sees how they can provide the citizens with the new constitution.