Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has broken her silence on the growing clamour for constitutional review, noting that her priority is to stabilise the country’s economy.
This stance, coming after the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) earlier said law reforms were not a priority, has made the opposition push harder for a revival of the Katiba review process, which was abruptly abandoned in 2014.
Leading opposition party Chadema on Thursday held a congress to chart a way for the quest for law reforms.
Fiery government critic and exiled former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu has termed the decision by the Samia government to put the Katiba on ice ill-informed.
President Samia insists that it is too early to discuss a new constitution, just 100 days into her presidency.
“It is true we have done well in the past few months. But on this one (constitution), I’ am pleading with you to give me more time to build the economy,” she said during a meeting with Tanzanian editors at State House, Dar es Salaam.
“Let us first attract investors that will enable us to create employment, then we will take care of other matters.”
President Samia, now the CCM chairperson, was once the vice-chairperson of the Constituent Assembly set up by former president Jakaya Kikwete to draft the new constitution.
The document was supposed to be subjected to a national referendum, but both Mr Kikwete and his successor the late John Magufuli did not pursue it, amid a lack of national consensus on a number of issues, including what tier of government to adopt.
Opposition parties tried in vain to resuscitate the process during the Magufuli era, even suggesting minimal reforms ahead of the last General Election.
President Samia, while terming the ongoing debate on the need for a new constitution healthy, feels that she is being rushed on the matter.
“Please give us time to improve the economy. That is the most important agenda,” she said. “But that is not to say that the constitution is not important. Please allow me to concentrate on our economy.”
She said the number of investments registered in her first 100 days “has almost doubled, compared with the corresponding period last year.”
Tanzania Investment Centre statistics indicate that the country registered 93 big investment projects worth $1.6 billion between March and June this year, representing a 36.7 percent increase from the same period last year. In 2020, 68 projects worth $321 million were registered.
The President has lifted sanctions on opposition meetings imposed by Dr Magufuli, giving them the freedom to meet in their hometowns.
“Opposition party MPs are free to talk to their people within their home constituencies,” she announced.
But Mr Lissu, who was recently in Nairobi to launch his book, Remaining in the Shadows; Parliament and Accountability in East Africa, wants more.
“On matters democracy, she has turned out to be what we feared earlier: She, too, is a ‘Magufulista’. And because she is a ‘Magufulista,’ we will oppose her with the same zeal we did her predecessor. The battle for Katiba Mpya is now officially on. We are prepared to fight for a new constitution.”
“The current system is incompatible with multiparty democracy. The entire constitution needs to go,” Mr Lissu told The EastAfrican.
“I heard her say that what we need now is to rebuild the economy as well as attract foreign investors. She needs to ask herself whether the current constitution is capable of attracting investors. What did they run away in the first place? They ran away because the current constitution does not inspire confidence in investors in the country. Not after five years of Magufuli,” said the opposition leader.
“If she is serious about getting investors back, a constitutional overhaul is inevitable. Investors will not just come in if she says so. They will only come back if there are watertight guarantees that their investments will be safe.”
As the Katiba debate gathers pace, academics and politicians differ on the way forward. Academics say a new set of laws may not be a silver bullet while politicians argue that development and democracy go hand-in-hand.
In a lecture themed Liberating Democracy and Democratic Liberation Professor Emeritus Issa Shivji of the University of Dar es Salaam stressed that both democracy and development are important, but achieving them is a process.
Using China as reference, the scholar said Beijing set goals for the next 100 years but African politicians focus on the next election, just five years away. Prof Shivji cited South Africa and Kenya as having the best constitutions in Africa.
“But look at the situation in these countries. Today, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world despite having a very good constitution.”
Additional reporting by The Citizen