Beware of those who come with gifts, even if they appear friendly

Monday June 27 2022

Tanzania is reviving the constitution review process that had been suspended some 10 years ago, back in the day when Jakaya Kikwete was president. TEA GRAPHIC | NMG


It sometimes looks like the Tanzanian political situation makes turns that very few anticipated and seeks to deliver results that few thought possible. This past week is no exception.

Literally out of the blue, the top policy organ of the ruling party, called the National Executive Committee (NEC), last week came out and declared to the public that it had directed the government to revive the constitutional process that had been suspended some 10 years ago, back in the day when Jakaya Kikwete was president.

At the behest of the new chair, President Samia Suluhu, the old machinery of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was changing tack on this important issue.

Many of us had not seen this coming, although it is fair to say that we should have seen it.

The reason it was not so clear in its coming but the palpable resistance on the part of the ruling party against any conversation hinting at constitutional reform.

Conventional wisdom


The explanation can be found in so many factors, but let us say that rule number one in such things is that the turkey can hardly be expected to vote for Christmas.

It is conventional wisdom that the main opposition forces in the country have been sufficiently clear on the need for any new constitutional dispensation to do away with those aspects of the constitution which they have been vocal against, one of which is the extremely centralised powers in the hands of the president, making him or her what they have called an “imperial president.”

For those who may not understand this, a note of explication is called for: The president of Tanzania appoints the Cabinet, of course, without the appointments being questioned.

Then he/she appoints the principal secretaries of ministries; the commissioners, directors, deputy directors in government departments; the regional commissioners, the district commissioners, the executives at regional and district levels; all the executives of parastatals and specialised agencies; heads of defence, security and pretty much everyone in public office.

The issue here is that at no point are all these officers brought under oversight and scrutiny by any committee or council.

These presidential appointments give the president virtually the power to pick whoever he/she fancies, even if he/she cannot tell the appointee from Adam.

Under the present constitution, although election results for MPs and district councils can be contested in lawcourts, presidential election results are not challengeable.

Even worse, under a curious amendment brought in by Benjamin Mkapa in 1996 when he was president, a president is elected by a simple majority, meaning we could have a president elected by as low as 10 percent of the vote, even lower.

It is not even clear whether the president pays tax, which is the number one duty of every citizen.

The Tanzania president is obviously above the law, and is virtually a king/queen. One can see where those calling for a new constitution are coming from.

Local government

But there is more. The main opposition party has for some time posited a strong local government wherein citizens in their localities will choose their leaders and rulers.

This would do away with the practice of the current president picking a native of the southernmost part of the country to serve as governor of a northernmost district, which he/she does not know or care for, and so on.

There are so many other obvious aberrations in the constitutional dispensation and the governance practices in this country, and these need to be addressed in any conversation that President Samia intends to institute at this point. Furthermore, any serious discussion around the constitution will have to take on board a number of these issues.

I do not expect that the ruling CCM party will gladly walk to the slaughter of the very arrangements that have benefitted them, sometimes allowing them to harvest where they never planted. How does anyone expect these people to abandon all that simply because they have finally travelled the Road to Damascus and seen the light.

There will have to be some hard-nosed negotiations in these exchanges, and a lot of pedagogical work will have to be done, because there are too many gaps in what our people, including those who would like to be considered as political minds, understand about what a constitutional review entails.

It is not going to be easy, and Samia could find that she has bitten off more than she can chew or swallow, and the steepest obstacles for her to jump over will most likely come from her own party, which is too far gone in the entrenched anti-democratic culture for us to believe that suddenly they have changed their spots.

Constitutional debates

Timeo danaos et porta ferentes, said the ancient Latins. I fear the Greeks even when they bring presents. Those familiar with the story of the Trojan Horse understand the full import of that saying, and I suppose they will be wary of these issues all the while as they follow the constitutional debates if these debates indeed do take place.

Meantime, the Ngorongoro/Loliondo saga rages on unabated, and more eruptions cannot be discounted.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]