Of the new constitution and the political dynamics in Tanzania

Sunday January 02 2022
warioba pic
By Erick Mwakibete

The calls for a new constitution have gained new momentum in recent months. As in the past, those leading calls for a new constitution despite belonging to different groups with different interests all converge on their demand for a new document. The focus has been on getting a new document but exactly how to arrive at that desired destination is a matter of debate. There are those who think a new electoral body should come first to even the political playground because those elected through such elections will ultimately decide what kind of constitution the country gets. Others think that is gravely misleading and the new constitution should come first because an electoral body is nothing but a cog in the machine.

The implied assumptions in these two positions is that once again, politicians will take charge of the process of writing the new constitution, and there is no mention of a starting point: Does the process start with the proposed constitution as passed by the Constituent Assembly? Does it start with the draft that came out of the Warioba Commission? Or perhaps it should start completely afresh? For now, these are issues sidestepped for convenience.

It would appear that few are interested to look at the pitfalls of the past which left us with two documents which divide the country more than they unite it. The inconclusiveness of the first round was a product of so many things. Some of these things are still with us, and others have regained their momentum.

The dynamics within political parties

This was the biggest factor which led us to the first failed attempt at writing a new constitution. Opposition politicians have led the calls for a new constitution because the current one inherently favours the long ruling party, CCM. They see a new constitution as key in changing the rules of the game and give them a fair shot at the political game. The overwhelming sense of injustices led them to form a loose political alliance which came apart at the seams of the 2015 general election courtesy of the changed political dynamics among the allied parties.

The stalemate of the first round after a costly process to the rest of the country led some to make calculated political moves to improve their chances on the political ground down the line by inviting disgruntled members from CCM. This unsettled the ‘comrades’ and led to a collapse of the alliance heading to the general election in 2015 even though the call for a new constitution remained on the political agenda. Within the ruling party, after a tortuous process during the 2010 general election at a time when the incumbent president had lost much of his political shine after a tumultuous first term, hijacking the calls for a new constitution was a smart political move at a time the party was going through internecine factional fights. Being part of the process for a new constitution meant that CCM, with its majority numbers in parliament, it would export some of the factional battles from within and ensure an inconclusive process but at the same time chip away a sizeable chunk of the opposition’s claim for anew document.

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When the process was launched in 2011, CCM was headed for intra-party elections in the next year with too much political noise coming from the party of claiming to clean up from within. The political stench was too much as it gave the opposition endless rounds of political ammunitions.

These dynamics were reflected on who ended up on the dancing floor.

What of the current reality?

The opposition alliance is long gone and it is just impossible to foresee one any time soon, and even if they finally agree to bury their ever growing hatchet for a common cause, the usual fault lines will colour their participation in the process.

CCM on the other hand is in the midst of its own bitter recriminations from some of its members, accusations of some leaders arranging their own preferred candidates for the upcoming intra-party elections later in the year. This transition coupled with a president who is trying to find a political balance from all these forces will colour any process that emerges.

Once these political dynamics are factored in, it is difficult to see the latest efforts ending on a better note than the previous one, after all politicians will once again be in charge.

Dear Readers, A Happy New Year!