Why Tanzania will be left behind without new constitution

Thursday July 15 2021
Katiba pic

President Jakaya Kikwete and his Zanzibari counterpart Ali Mohamed Shein prepare to unwrap copies of the Draft Constitution presented to them by the Warioba Constitutional team. The two presidents have since retired from office. The process of writing a new constitution was never finalised. PHOTO | FILE

By Damas Kanyabwoya

The calls for the writing of a new constitution are based on a noble and justified cause. The current mother law, crafted almost half a century ago, is no longer inadequate to meet today’s needs. It can no longer help Tanzania claim its rightful place in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4FIR) era.
An adequate constitution is important to give Tanzania a right sense of direction politically, economically, socially and culturally. This trajectory, arrived at in a national consensus, is important to get every citizen aligned in efforts to get the country to the level it is supposed to be in the next 100 years.
Without a new constitution, the development vision and plans would remain a pipe dream. As a matter of fact, even the current ‘business as usual attitude’ reflected in the annual national budgets could be largely due to a lack of a sense of direction on how the national economy is handled.
The 1977 constitution worked well under the single party system setting. At that time, Tanzania had a ‘national ideology’.
But, following the reintroduction of multiparty politics, and the fact that the ruling party had since abandoned its ideology the country has been lacking in a firm direction.  This situation does not only endanger Tanzania’s peace and stability  but also could prove detrimental towards its economic, social and political future.  

Electoral reforms
A new constitution would be crucial in the creation of a new democratic dispensation to effectively facilitate smooth transfer of power during elections.
In other words, the new constitution would guarantee Tanzania’s long-term political stability, which is a pre-requisite for long-term economic stability. The new Katiba is also crucial for the consolidation of democratic institutions--independent judiciary, independent and effective legislature, the free press and a vibrant civil society.  
Lastly, the new mother law is important to facilitate electoral reforms. But these reforms do not have to wait for the new constitution. Analysts argue that mixing the need for electoral reforms and the demand for the new constitution might just serve to derail the whole constitutional process.
There is nothing in the current constitution, they say, that prevents its own amendment to allow electoral reforms. Moreover some reforms can be made through amendments of some existing laws. Things like an independent national electoral commission; allowing presidential electoral petitions; reducing powers of the president; allowing independent candidates; changing the manner of appointing the chief justice and judges and so forth could be done by amending the current constitution.
The point here is electoral reforms are overdue. Going to the 2025 General Election with the existing laws is risky, to say the least. And so separating these two issues is important to give enough time and space to the creation of a solid new constitution. The process can’t, and shouldn’t, be rushed.
We have not yet recovered from the effects of a rushed 2012 Katiba process.

CCM and the reins of power
The ruling party, CCM, is crucial in delivering the new constitution. But for this to happen the party needs to re-assess itself as it used to do in the past. The reassessment should come up with something akin to the 1971 and 1981 guidelines (Mwongozo). CCM needs Mwongozo 2021 to enable members discern why Tanzania needs to take the long-drawn econo-political transition to its logical conclusion.
This voice from within should enable the ruling party realize that a new constitution is not only important but also necessary for CCM’s own survival. It’s probably time for members and fans of CCM from the academia/ intelligentsia, the civil society and the private sector to come together and apply gentle pressure to the party leadership.
This key group should stop playing the role of praise-singers and demagogues and start telling truth to power, at least, in private party sessions.
CCM should understand that the constitution is not purely a political policy document, although politics is one of its important aspects.
The mistake ruling party cadres are making is to discredit the demand for the new constitution just to get at the opposition. While it’s true that the opposition might be “driven by the hunger for power”, it is also true that the country badly needs the new mother law to be able to move forward.
It’s like the elderly eagle that has to shed its old feathers, break its beak and claws to rejuvenate itself. Or a snake that has to shed its skin to be able to live longer. It’s not up to CCM to decide whether Tanzania needs a new constitution or not.
Consequently, continuing with the old 1977 constitution is not a guarantee for CCM’s continued dominance. It is an open kept secret that as long as Tanzania continues to exercise political plurality it is just a matter of when, and not whether, CCM loses power.
Whether it will relinquish that power willingly or not, after loss of elections, is another matter. But the rug has already been pulled beneath CCM’s feet! Now, the bitter truth is that if CCM loses power in the current constitutional arrangement it will go the dinosaur way; down the road of other independent-era ruling parties (Kenya’s Kanu, Zambia’s UNIP, Ghana’s CPP).
In other words, it is better for CCM to prepare the environment where it can survive as a major opposition party with a high possibility of returning to power. If CCM finds itself in opposition with the current constitution in place, it will become history. Secondly, facilitating the creation of a new constitution is likely to increase CCM’s prestige and acceptability.
This could help CCM buy more time to reform itself. And in that case the opposition would need some catching up to do. Tanzania does not yet have a major opposition party that has a national outlook. No opposition political party can rival CCM’s nationalwide grassroots support.  Most opposition parties are popular in urban centres and have grassroots support only among certain tribes, religions or regions. This can change quickly and dramatically with the right strategies, intra-party democratic reforms and enough investments (in time and energy) at the grassroots level. The opposition can take power notwithstanding its current shortcomings. If it does, then it is only a better constitutional setting that will help CCM take advantage of its grassroots support to regain power.