Will Samia disappoint on constitutional reform?

What you need to know:

  • The President will be a disappointment depending on where one stands

President Samia Suluhu Hassan resuscitated the process of reforming the country’s constitution after coming to power.

There was such a buzz around it, especially given the stance of her immediate predecessor in office.

However, of late, there have been doubts, especially from the opposition, about her commitment to the process and whether she will deliver something that has eluded the country since the return of multipartism in 1992.

The President has her supporters

These consider her tolerance of political criticism a welcome aspect at a time of political transition.

They urge caution, lest the process end with another document like the languishing proposed constitution or set of constitutional reforms that no one wants or needs.

They consider the slow-moving process necessary to ensure that something ‘durable’ comes out of the political woodwork.

To be fair, there are those who never wavered in their belief that the President will never deliver any fundamental changes to the country’s constitution, with their scepticism rooted not in her but in the party she leads and its long history of lack of appetite for radical reforms.

These trace a long list of failed attempts and half-hearted attempts at reforming not only the constitution but also other laws in the country, going as far back as the Justice Nyalali Commission. ‘Minor’ changes followed.

Then came other commissions, but the government of the day either ignored the recommendations altogether or reinterpreted them to fit a particular purpose.

There are those who were so disillusioned by her immediate predecessor that they thought anything next would be a welcome chapter.

These missed or chose to ignore the fact that the President is first and foremost a political actor, and her (in)actions should be viewed in tandem with the realities of her own political aspirations and the interests of her political party.

Other critics have argued that the new process is taking unnecessary detours through commissions, task forces, and other avenues, which make the whole process dizzying with little to show for it at the end of the road.

Some argue that the President has ‘changed’ along the road, especially with the general election of 2025 approaching. That has refocused the President’s political priorities.

Tanzanian presidents of the multiparty era have dealt with the issue of constitutional reforms one way or another.

Former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi had the task of ensuring the country would not erupt into political madness as the calls for a return to multipartism grew louder.

Gradual reforms were made to the constitution and some electoral laws to accommodate this goal.

That wave passed

It was not until the time of former President Jakaya Kikwete that the calls for constitutional reform had political potency. The option this time around was to stall for more time and ride out the gathering political storm.

In their final form, these efforts took the form of a diverse constituent assembly and the proposed constitution that no one wants or needs.

It was an expensive endeavour

Former President John Magufuli’s approach was simple and direct.

He ignored the whole thing and argued the country would be better served by focusing on delivering economic development instead of ‘wasting’ its time and resources in search of a document that he argued was not in the election manifesto of his party.

President Samia opted to go back in time and picked a well-tested and tried approach that pays attention to the demands from beyond the big political tent of CCM without allowing too much control and influence to slip away.

This means that the final product of the latest attempts will give her political mileage within CCM and show a degree of goodwill to the opposition, to the point of taking enough steam out of the issue come 2025.

It is easy to see why opponents are arguing that CCM has run out of ideas to save itself after spending an ‘eternity’ at the top.

However, that does not mean they have better alternatives in their tank.

The President will be a disappointment depending on where one stands, but she never promised any fundamental changes to begin with.

If anything, the latest developments mirror previous attempts at reforming the constitution.