The debate around the need to have a serious constitutional review in Tanzania is refusing to go away. Every week, we learn of new legal action taken by members of civil society that seeks to challenge this or that act undertaken by government officials that people find unjust, unfair or illegal.
Increasingly, this is becoming a litigating society in which more and more people are willing and able to have recourse to the law courts every time they feel their rights have been denied by those in authority, which is a far cry from the days when what was done or said by the powers that be went absolutely unchallenged. People suffered in silence rather than take action.
This is for the good of everyone in a dynamic society that has to feel that it is making progress rather than being arrested in eternal infancy.
Human societies need that dynamism, vibrancy and vitality. We look back and wonder how our forebears could have lived like they did so long ago, and vow never to go back to the dark days of yore, and whoever attempts to push us back there is viewed as inimical to progress and will necessarily be resisted.
Simple lessons of history are taught across the world, and they tend to show the truth that the quest for progress is implacable. When in 1215 AD, King John of England was made to sign the Magna Carta, he was giving in to the demands of local nobles who were asserting their “right” to lord it over “their” serfs if the nobles were to continue supporting the king in his wars with foreign powers.
Of course, the serfs had no part in the dialogue between king and nobles; they were the pawns, for that time. By the 1640s, as the English parliament flexed its muscles and overthrew and killed the monarch, the givens had changed considerably, and the new dimension got etched in stone a century later with the French Revolution as new and more potent productive forces started coming to the fore, pushing aside outmoded and crippling relations.
Needless to say, all these mutations took place amid great upheavals and disruptions that shattered countries and societies, often occasioning new beginnings that led in their turn to new turbulences, the only constant being that change is inevitable.
Today’s disruptions may seem less apocalyptic than that, as we see fewer armoured horsemen than youngsters wielding gizmos, overthrowing old thinking and snatching their freedom from stunned parents.
It is taking place, not necessarily at the level of the nation or society, but certainly at the level of the age group that is raring to go, straining at the leash. The demographics of our present reality must give us cause to think of how the youngsters in our midst are going to translate their energies into a force for good, and how our political dispensations will take cognisance of the arrival of these so-called millennials.
Our minds must now be focused on how to build political and economic systems that recognise that we can no longer do things the way we were used to doing them.
That is why all our efforts must be directed at thinking how to let the young people take over. Of course, the alternative to that is that they will simply take over, hugger-mugger.
Tanzania, like all the other East African countries, is called upon to sit up and recognise this reality. Unfortunately, we are still dragging our feet and picking our noses.
A new constitutional dispensation is indicated here, not just for the sake of having a new constitution but to give ourselves an opportunity to craft a future that is erected around the young people and their aspirations.
The millennials represent a potent force that, if properly harnessed and given appropriate instruction, could unleash unbounded energies capable of catapulting our countries into the league of world beaters. That needs serious thought. But no serious thought will flower in an atmosphere where there is little freedom to discuss issues and make ideas contend with each other.
It will do us good to remember that the same energies that can launch us into great achievements can also, if mishandled, be the cause of our self-destruction.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam