Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu has formally re-introduced the constitutional review, pulling a fast one against an opposition that has been using it to criticise her administration.
Her move, coming after two recent failed attempts led by the opposition, could be the President’s way of taking charge of the process that could define her political future.
On May 6, President Samia gave the go-ahead for an all-inclusive political parties meeting to get the constitution-writing process underway based on the recommendations of a government-backed taskforce on democratic reforms.
The taskforce concluded its work of collecting public views in September 2022 and advised, among other things, that the draft that was shelved in 2015, just before being presented for voting in a public referendum, would provide the best basis for the next steps.
According to state house, the Registrar of Political Parties Rtd Justice Francis Mutungi will convene a meeting to “evaluate progress in implementing the recommendations of the task force” and set out a proper participatory roadmap for the new drafting process.
Opposition parties will also discuss with representatives of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) amendments to laws related to elections and political party activities ahead of next year's local government elections and the 2025 presidential and parliamentary polls.
All these, particularly the new Katiba and an independent electoral system, have been key aspects of the opposition’s demands for major political reforms and a level playing field by the time the next elections cycle comes around.
Samia said that the constitution-making process should involve not only politicians but also “various other stakeholders, and particularly ordinary citizens” from both Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar.
By the end of the week, the registrar had yet to announce a date for a meeting, even as public debate began to gather pace.
A national dialogue
In its recommendations, the taskforce proposed a "national dialogue" to pinpoint particular clauses in the current constitution that need to be amended or scrapped altogether, and a “panel of experts” appointed by the President to prepare a fresh draft using ideas from the dialogue and the 2014 draft.
Demands for constitutional change have dominated Tanzania's political landscape since 2012, due to growing public impatience with a document that has been in place since 1977 before the return of multi-parties and now appears outdated.
The first government-sponsored constitutional review led by former prime minister Joseph Warioba produced a draft in 2014, after public consultations, but it was abandoned, amid significant disagreements at the political level.
Samia, then a Cabinet minister, was the deputy chair of the second review sittings, which produced another draft for tabling in a national referendum. However, opposition parties disassociated themselves with the entire process, complaining of CCM’s manipulation and unsanctioned alterations to the original Warioba Draft.
The referendum was postponed indefinitely in April 2015, months before the general election that saw Samia's predecessor John Magufuli come to power, with her as vice-president.
Her initiative to kick-start the process this time round is in keeping with her reconciliation (Maridhiano) agenda designed to appease an opposition still hurting from years of political persecution under Magufuli.
In January, she ended a ban on political rallies imposed during the Magufuli years which had also been high on the opposition's reforms agenda.
Opposition parties reacts
Opposition parties have reacted in a somewhat muted fashion to the latest move in the constitutional review.
ACT Wazalendo said it hoped the proposed meeting would agree on a timetable to ensure new laws for elections and political party activities were enacted "before the end of this year.”
"We also expect the issues that thwarted the 2014 constitutional review process to be discussed in depth, followed by resolutions to ensure those issues do not recur," the party's secretary-general Ado Shaibu said.
Chadema Deputy Chairman Tundu Lissu appeared to maintain his customary vocal stance, telling public rallies in Dodoma and Singida during the week that if the new constitution is not in place by 2025, "no one will be able to live comfortably in this country".
Referring to CCM public banners portraying successful reconciliation talks with the opposition, Mr Lissu also warned the government to “first solve all the issues brought up in the talks” before sending out messages to the people that "everything is now good".
“They have not changed a single law; instead, it's just banners everywhere, like they've already started campaigning for the next election three years early,” he told supporters in Singida on Wednesday.
“I am not against Maridhiano, but I object to being led on, massaged with soothing oil, blindfolded. The only real solution is a new constitution, and if that fails, we are all finished," he added.
Chadema is being represented by its chairman Freeman Mbowe in the Maridhiano talks with CCM leaders. According to Mr Lissu who was the party's presidential candidate in the 2020 election, the talks have so far yielded little more for Chadema than "slice of bread" promises of inclusion in a coalition government and equitable parliamentary representation after the 2025 election.
Damas Ndumbaro, minister for justice and constitutional affairs, told parliament while presenting the ministry’s 2023/2024 budget proposals last month that the new Katiba and election laws review process would be prioritised during the year, with Tsh9 billion ($3.88 million) added to the budget for that purpose.
Minister of State responsible for Parliamentary Matters Jenista Mhagama also pledged in the House this past week that the government would table bills for the electoral and political parties' laws for endorsement before the end of 2023.