Tanzania is gearing up for the final stages of crafting a new constitution to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the political union between Tanganyika and the archipelago of Zanzibar in April 2014. But the future of Africa’s only surviving voluntary political union now hangs in the balance.
Highlighting the Union’s uncertainty is what intellectuals and policy pundits have dubbed Kero za Muungano (the grievances over the Union). A new 271-article draft constitution that the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) unveiled at the end of December last year has hardly calmed the waters.
The proposal by the draft for three-levels of government, with separate administrations for the mainland (Tanganyika) and Zanzibar and an umbrella union government, has rekindled parochial nationalisms now challenging the continuation of the Union.
Now christened the “Warioba virus,” after the chairman of the CRC and the former attorney-general and prime minister, Joseph Warioba, the draft has polarised opinion between the larger group of “Unionists” and a small but vociferous group of “separatists” in both the mainland and Zanzibar.
The draft is now the focus of a 619-strong Constituent Assembly — made up of 418 lawmakers and 201 specially nominated members representing special interests.
The draft reflects a major climb-down by the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) power elite, which for nearly two decades rejected has outright the idea of a new constitution.
Arguably, Tanzania’s drive constitution-making reflects the domino effects of the triumph of consensus-driven constitutional processes in South Africa (1996), Kenya (2010) and more recently Zimbabwe (2013). But the new draft also signifies the political calculations of the power elite at the helm of CCM.
As part of his re-election pledge in 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete made a firm commitment to bring to fruition the issue of constitutional review.
Tanzanian legal scholar Prof Issa Shivji suggests that President Kikwete embraced the idea “partly to take the wind out of the sails of the political opposition and partly to carve out a legacy, as he would be leaving the presidency in 2015.”
Be that as it may, since March 2011, his government has moved with speed to enact the Constitutional Review Act No.8 (2011, amended in February 2012) as the legal framework of constitution review; appointed a Constitution Review Commission headed by Justice Warioba to collect the views of the public and a Constitutional Assembly to draft the final constitution to be validated via a referendum.
But Tanzania’s constitution-making confronts several challenges. The first is whether the ongoing peace-time constitutional process will deliver genuine democracy.
Conceptually, Tanzania is now a rare model of countries making constitutions in peacetime. It is not making its constitution after a civil war or genocide as in Uganda and Rwanda, where constitution-making largely reflected the victor’s visions.
Tanzania has also been shielded from the fears and vagaries of post-conflict constitution-making in power-sharing governments that have produced largely compromise constitutions in South Africa (1996), Kenya (2010) and Zimbabwe (2013).
But Tanzania’s constitution-making is a perfect “bureaucratic” process “overseen” by the CCM, which controls 75 per cent of lawmakers. The final outcome of the review process will invariably reflect its vision of the future of power in Tanzania.
Challenge of Nationalisms
Second, grievances over the Union with Zanzibar have stoked new forms of parochial regional nationalisms now challenging the vision of a united Tanzania.
Unveiling the draft, Justice Warioba stated: “We need to have a three-tier government system. Each side should have a government that will handle its own affairs, in addition to the one which will be responsible for the overall management of fundamental issues within the Union.”
The proposed charter would leave Tanzania’s Union government with authority over seven matters, down from 22, including the currency and the central bank, national security and foreign affairs.
Effective management of tribalism and religious diversity may be the enduring legacy of Tanzania’s founding president Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere, which spared Tanzania the ethno-nationalism that bedevilled constitution-making in Africa.
But the draft has animated two forms of parochial nationalisms. The first is the residual mainland (Tanganyika) nationalism. Many mainlanders resenting the failure of Zanzibar to make full financial contributions to the Union government.
They see the asymmetrical power arrangement between Zanzibar and the Union government as skewed because it is not matched by a similar arrangement with the mainland.
Moreover, they question the logic of ranking Zanzibar at the same level with the mainland, citing its size, population and income.
To them, a pampered partner is a drain on the resources and taxes of the mainlanders. As a result, the CRC proposal of two governments (Tanganyika and Zanzibar) subordinate to the Union government is encountering fierce opposition.
Second is the spiralling Zanzibari nationalism. Zanzibar’s separatists claim that the interests of the Islands have not been sufficiently appreciated by the Union government. They have, therefore, sought more autonomy and sovereignty.
Also driving Zanzibar nationalism is the growing force of separatist movements that want Zanzibar to be an independent nation separated from mainland Tanzania.
Islamist groups like Uamsho have grown bolder, advocating the end to Zanzibar’s 1964 Union with mainland Tanzania, a secular state, and introduction of Islamic Sharia law in Zanzibar. This clamour is giving rise to political extremism and violence.
The main target of these parochial nationalisms is the “supra” nationalism that underpins Tanzania’s Union government. Only the triumph of Tanzanian “supra” nationalism can save the Union.
Besides mundane economic considerations, Tanzania and its neighbours share a common fear that the possible collapse of the Union would open the floodgates for Islamic fundamentalism, hatred, and political terrorism across the whole of East Africa and the Indian Ocean seaboard.
Scenarios of Government
Scenarios on the future of Tanzania are focusing on the structure of government.
The first is the Warioba Commission’s proposal for a three -tier government discussed earlier. This envisions a “federal model” with Zanzibar and the mainland as separate governments within the federation. But critics are warning that Zanzibar and Tanganyika cannot be equal by any measure.
For this scenario to hold, the constitution has to be developed in a way that it balances between the influence of the mainland government and the distinctive characteristics of Zanzibar.
The second scenario is a one government model proposed by a high-profile conference of scholars dubbed “A 100 Academics for Katiba Bora Tanzania” organised by the Eastern and Southern Africa Universities Research Programme (ESAURP) last week.
Participants at the meeting proposed that under a one government scenario, Zanzibar would be one amongst a number of regional governments, but with special status because of its distinctiveness. While this is the most cost-effective scenario, politically it is unlikely to stand because of Zanzibar’s quest for sovereignty.
The third, and most likely compromise is a two government model increasingly gaining preponderance in the Constituent Assembly debates.
Under this modification of the two government model currently operating in Tanzania, Zanzibar is expected to elect members to the higher Union government along the lines of Scotland in the United Kingdom.
Finally, the worst case scenario is the break-up model leading to the return to the pre-1964 situation with Tanganyika and Zanzibar as two distinct states.
However, even within the Zanzibar archipelago, there is a pervading fear that the collapse of the Union will lead to xenophobia and destruction or seizure of the property of Zanzibar investors on the mainland.
Tanzania, its regional partners and the international community recognise that while Zanzibar may be an economic burden on Tanzania, with the break-up of the union, Zanzibar risks morphing into a cesspool of insecurity, a fertile ground for Islamic extremism and a haven for terrorism.
As such, Zanzibar remains critical to the stability, security and economy of a future federation of East Africa.
Professor Kagwanja is the chief executive of the Africa Policy Institute.
The author is indebted to the organisers of the “A 100 Academics for Katiba Bora Tanzania” conference for publishing a longer version of this article, which has been enriched by participation in the ESAURP conference.