Tanzanians must not shy away from dissecting hard Union issues

Sunday May 12 2024
tz flag

The Tanzanian national flag. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


I am regularly seeing chickens coming home to roost in Tanzanian politics, when things we did or said in the yesteryear come back to our front porch and stare us in the face to tell us they have not gone away.

Currently, there has been a rather noisy argument concerning the arrangements of the Union of Tanzania — comprising the former independent countries of Tanganyika and Zanzibar — which united back in 1964.

For very long — in fact, for as long as Julius Nyerere was in power, even when out of power — it was anathema to discuss the Union, except by praising it as a first on the African continent; an example of what African countries should all be doing; a Union made in heaven; and such other laudatory no-brainers that are the stock-in-trade of praise singers. Anyone who dared call out the way the Union had come about or the manner of running its affairs was given short shrift, or worse.

Often, critical people who voiced their opinions were arrested or otherwise castigated, as I have had occasion to describe in this column.

Nyerere had erected the Union into a holy cow that brooked no examination, an iceberg against which many a political ship floundered.

Read: ULIMWENGU: In Tanzania, gravy trains come special


That was the era of the Preventive Detention Act, (PDA), that infamous law devised by Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah in the early 1960s, soon to be copied, lock, stock and barrel by other African rulers, including Tanzania’s.

Back to the Union, Nyerere tolerated nothing that suggested that there was something wrong with the Union, as it was set up by him, although he himself would occasionally tinker with the administrative or political setup, by appointing commissions to advise him on how to go forward every time there was a hitch.

For instance, the reintroduction of multiparty politics threw up the scenario where one party could win the presidential vote in one side of the Union and lose in the other, making it hard for the two to form a government; Nyerere came up with a commission come up with the running-mate template in which the running mate would come from the “other” part of the Union.

This is how current President Samia Suluhu Hassan came into the picture as the running mate for John Magufuli in 2020 and acceded to the top job when Magufuli died in office.

Now, in the era of multiparty politics — in which dissention is voiced openly, and Nyerere is no longer with us — this is the first time a president has come from Zanzibar, and her actions have prompted some voices to question whether someone from Zanzibar can take executive action on matters that do not belong to competencies allowed by the Constitution as Union matters, something Nyerere was never queried on.

The main opposition party, Chadema, has been raising issue with some actions taken by Samia in this regard, particularly what was seen recently as the privatisation of ports on the Tanganyika side of the Union to Dubai Port and, more recently, the forced relocation of Maasai herders from areas around Ngorongoro and Loliondo areas in favour of business interests in the Arab Gulf.

The queries raised by Chadema have been labelled “discriminatory” by a number of ruling party stalwarts, but Chadema has stood its ground, insisting it is the current shoddy constitutional setup that is discriminatory.

Read: ULIMWENGU: We either fix our problems or prepare to perish

They point to the anomaly where Zanzibar, where a parliamentary constituency has a population of, say 5,000, and a Tanganyika constituency has up to 300,000 but their representatives in parliament have the same vote and emoluments; where Zanzibaris can own land in Tanganyika but the reverse is not possible; where a non-Tanganyika president can dispose of assets in Tanganyika, et cetera.

The Chadema top brass — including party chairman Freeman Mbowe and his vice-chair Tundu Lissu — are asking this simple question: Now who is discriminating against whom?

These are questions that were kept under the carpet all the time Nyerere was in power, and when out of power but very powerful. Now that he is no longer around, these issues will resurface again and again. I am not seeing them going anywhere anytime soon.

The proper thing would be to now hold candid conversations around the Union with a view to untangling some of the knotty issues relating to the Union and craft solutions for/to them. It is disingenuous, and it will not help anyone to keep burying our heads in the sand.

I notice that mainstream media do not seem too interested in the debates going on currently, but that only plays into the hands of the corruptive influences of social media, with its penchant for misinformation.

Finally, Tanzanians must strive to wean themselves off the debilitating effects of too much dependence on mental and psychological handouts from above and insist on exercising our intellectual faculties.

Julius Nyerere, though justly venerated as father of the nation, should not be erected into a god, and some of his strictures must be revisited critically in this season of our chickens coming home to roost.

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