Tanzania finally kicks off debate on legal reforms

Saturday February 18 2023
Samia Suluhu Hassan with the chairman of ChademaFreeman Mbowe

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan (right) shakes hands with the chairman of Chadema opposition party Freeman Mbowe on March 4, 2022. Tanzania has kicked off legal reforms debate. PHOTO | TANZANIAN STATE HOUSE | AFP


Tanzania has kicked off legal reforms debate, with the launch of public participation process to pave the way to review of the country’s laws

The Law Reform Commission on February 15 put out a public notice inviting written proposals on which laws need to be scrapped, changed or amended as a matter of priority.

The notice included a link to an online questionnaire requiring respondents to specify the problems and "challenges" inherent in any laws they suggest for review.

Deadline for receiving all public responses has been set for March 15.

"The aim of this initiative is to ensure that all Tanzania's laws are in conformity with changing times for sustainable development," the Commission's executive secretary Griffin Mwakapeje said.

According to Mr Mwakapeje, the Commission is preparing a comprehensive law review programme covering the period 2023-2025.


Samia's pledge

The notice comes on the heels of President Samia Suluhu's pledge last month that her government was ready to start reviewing laws deemed repressive by opposition parties and civil rights advocates in Tanzania.

While announcing the lifting of a long-standing ban on political rallies on January 3, the president said further moves were in the pipeline to push forward a reconciliation (maridhiano) agenda with opposition parties that she initiated in May last year.

Less than a week later, she appointed Mr Mwakapeje, previously a senior officer in the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry, to run the Law Reform Commission's day-to-day affairs under the chairmanship of retired Court of Appeal judge January Msoffe.

Other urgent reforms being sought by the opposition as part of the maridhiano drive include entire revamps of Tanzania's current constitution and elections system along with a slew of laws governing political activity, police and judicial operations, and more.

Fix laws

Speaking after the ban on political rallies was scrapped, main opposition Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe said there were "numerous" laws that required fixing before Tanzania holds its next civic elections in 2024 and presidential/parliamentary elections in 2025.

"The main thing that the president promised is that the review work on all these laws will be inclusive and collaborative. That is the most important takeaway," Mr Mbowe said.

According to the commission, the questionnaire now accessible on its website is open to citizens, private institutions, civil society organisations, workers and trade unions, urban and rural farmers, business people "and any other interested stakeholders."

President Suluhu has been hailed by the opposition for allowing divergent views when she lifted ban on political rallies.

The freedom has seen opposition leader Tundu Lissu return to the country from exile where he has been living after assassination attempts.