Katiba review: We may as well start dissecting substantial issues

Sunday February 25 2024

Chadema vice-chair Tundu Lissu (L) and President Samia Suluhu at a past meeting. PHOTO | COURTESY


The constant theme serving as the soundtrack for the continuing demonstrations of Tanzania’s main opposition party Chadema has been the call for a new constitution. 

It will be remembered that this was Chadema’s, and other opposition parties’, rallying cry before 2011, when President Jakaya Kikwete surprised everyone by announcing that he was choosing retired attorney-general and respected former prime minister Joseph Warioba to head a team of luminaries who would propose a new constitution.

That this was not in the ruling party’s campaign manifesto was obvious, but what was not was why Kikwete had chosen this path. Some detractors said he was looking to steal the opposition’s thunder, some even suggesting he was taking it over with the intention of taking it to the shrubbery to slaughter it.

The latter point of speculation seemed to have won the argument when, four years after he had appointed the Warioba Commission and the latter had worked assiduously collecting people’s opinions and sharing his findings with the president , the regimental sergeant-major himself rained on his constitutional parade: Kikwete ordered the whole Warioba Commission — comprising prominent academics and political heavyweights — out of town, closed their offices, cancelled their hotel bookings and pulled down their website.

That process has remained where it was, after that humiliating debacle. Warioba, a sober, self-effacing gentleman of the highest integrity, has refused to utter a word about that episode, though it is clear that he still smarts from the psychological bruises of the experience.

I doubt Kikwete has ever apologised to Warioba for the indignity he subjected him to — which would have been the done thing — but what is clear is that the calls for a new constitution have not dried up.


As life becomes more expensive, as basic items such as sugar, water and power become harder to come by, people start wandering about for solutions, and failing to find any, get drawn into the idea that they are badly governed and they ought to do something about their governance structures and processes.

Chadema-organised demonstrations have drawn significant numbers of ordinary folk who may not be card-carry members, which could mean that the messages put out by this party — in reality the only opposition party on the Tanganyika mainland — have found a certain resonance with the public, which is abandoning its customary nonchalance and apathy.

For the time being, the three main issues highlighted in these demonstrations have been the demand for a new constitution; the need for government to find ways of easing the living conditions of the citizens and the need to take urgent actions to institute “minimum constitutional and legal reforms” to allow the year’s local government elections and next year’s general election to take place, while all the time keeping the thoroughgoing constitutional reforms for a more opportune time in the not-so-distant future.

This seems to be a reasonable stance adopted by Chadema, which has rejected the idea of boycotting the elections wholesale unless there is a new constitution, which would have flung the country into a political quagmire, and which ruling-party stalwarts would have loved. Such people only care for undertakings that favour the status quo, never mind what might happen in the medium and long term if the cries of some sections of society are not taken on board by those doing the governing.

All these are important issues that need looking into. In the meantime, I incline to dissect some of the governance structures with a view to shedding some light on what we ail from but hardly talk about. Recently, I have looked hard at the office of the prime minister, which is now enshrined in the constitution, although it was not always so.

For instance, when Edward Sokoine was, for the first time, named prime minister in 1977 (he resigned in 1980 for health reasons but came back in 1983) the post was not in the constitution, though this changed with the reintroduction of multipartyism in 1992.

The lackadaisical manner in which this office has been approached speaks to the ambivalence with which Julius Nyerere looked at it, not really a centre of power but a hub of pliable assistants at the beck and call of the office immediately above it, the presidency.

In 1977, President Nyerere was asked why he was appointing someone to an office that did not exist in the constitution. His answer suggested it was not an important question because a “prime minister” is just a special kind of minister, slightly above the other ministers.

We have lived with that ever since, several “prime ministers” trying their luck at carving out for themselves whatever substance they can from an amorphous structure, wherein the office holder is neither a head of government nor a player of any sort on the islands of Zanzibar, which makes it anomalous to call him/her “Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania.”

It is one of the curveballs we are likely to encounter when we get deeper into the intricacies of constitutional development. This is as good a place to start as any.