Why is Tanzania’s opposition pushing for a constitution reform?

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam
Posted on Monday, 19 July 2021 18:29, updated on Thursday, 22 July 2021 17:00

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan inspects a guard of honour mounted by the Tanzania Peoples Defense Forces after she was sworn into office at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Since Samia Suluhu Hassan took over the top position in Tanzania, she has changed the tone of the political landscape. But a growing number of oppositionists and activists want her to go the extra mile and change the constitution. They claim that doing so would set in motion a solution to the ever-present problems Tanzanians still face.

The current constitution of Tanzania was adopted in 1977 by senior members of the ruling party, when the country was a one-party state. But having come out of a near one-party situation under the former President John Magufuli, members of the opposition are looking for ways to ensure that the country stays on its current trajectory and does not lapse again.

The opposition believes that one of the main results of a constitutional change would be elevation of Tanzanians from the current situation that creates political and economic divisions. They say it would provide a blue-print for future situations should Tanzania finds itself in a potentially dangerous period.

Oppositionists also believe that a new constitution would promote accountability among political leaders, versus now, where the constitution creates immunity for political leaders such as the president, vice president, prime minister, president of Zanzibar, House Speaker and chief justice.

“Leaders fear that when we enact a new constitution, they will be accountable for what they did while in office,” Deus Kibamba, the executive director and policy analyst at Tanzania Citizens’ Information Bureau, tells The Africa Report.

What does the opposition want?

According to the opposition, the 1977 constitution is outdated because it was adopted without the say of the people. They argue that now is the right time to have a people-centered constitution. “A constitution agreed on by the people will make politicians accountable to the public, unlike the current one that completely places politicians above the people,” says John Heche, the former MP for Tarime Constituency.

Opposition actors also say that the constitution gives too much power to the presidency and that alone jeopardises any mechanism of checks and balances within the government. While both Tanzania and the US, for example, have stipulated that the president is head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the Tanzanian president is also in charge of appointing all heads of the different branches of government. The American president only has the power to nominate people, whose names are then debated and later adopted or dropped by Congress or the Supreme Court.

We must agree to accomplish constitutional change. We must have a common nation stand to accomplish this work. We need to make changes so as to unite this country.

Article 36 of the constitution gives power to the president to appoint and punish all public servants including those in the executive, parliament and judiciary branches. Article 37 (1) states: “The president shall be free and not obliged to take advice given to him by any person, save where is required by this constitution or other law to act in accordance with the advice given to him by any person authority.”

And should the president be accused of any wrongdoing during his/her tenure, the head of state is essentially untouchable, as per Article 46 (1) and (2) which state that: “During the president’s tenure it shall be prohibited to institute or continue in court any criminal proceedings against him.”

Based on the above, oppositionists and activists believe that the following three points are indispensable in steering Tanzania towards the path of democracy:

1. Independent electoral commission

The current constitution stipulates that the head of the electoral commission must be appointed by the president. But this very fact, the opposition says, does not ensure that the commission is unbiased, given that the president comes from a political party, and will thus be inclined to choose someone from that party.

We all belong to Tanzania and we need to create the future of this country. CCM under this constitution cannot guarantee peace and I am saddened by the president ‘s remarks that the constitution should wait until she fixes the economy. We are ready to fight for a new constitution.

Article 74 of the constitution says all members of the electoral commission, from top boss to commissioners, will be appointed by the president without any political consultation. “It is a shame in our electoral process to have one political party leader appoint an electoral body. In that case our electoral process lacks impartiality and fairness. An election commission should be a neutral one,” says James Mbatia, a leader of NCCR-Mageuzi party.

2. Checks and balances in government

The opposition is also pushing for checks and balances within the government. Currently, the head of state appoints:

  • The head of judiciary;
  • The chief justice;
  • Court of appeal judges;
  • High court judges and
  • Members of the judiciary commission service.

“There is a need to have an independent process to appoint judges. The president is also a human being. He [or she] can make mistakes and can also favour his or her friends. We need a free and independent system to appoint these officials,” Emmanuel Kiniki, a constitution activist and lawyer, tells The Africa Report.

The opposition also says a new constitution would reduce the powers of the president, contrary to the current one that automatically makes Tanzania a quasi-monarchy state.

3. Equal distribution of resources

A new constitution would help to equally distribute resources across the country. At present, certain places such as Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya are highly developed, compared to other regions such as Kigoma, Lindi and Mtwara.

“In areas like Mtwara, we see youth joining the insurgency over in Cabo Delgado [Mozambique] because they don’t see a future for themselves here. To some extent, this is because of our existing policies. We need a complete overhaul of the constitution to address these challenges,” says an Anglican priest who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Policies that neglect certain areas result in minimal access to education and training services coupled with a high unemployment rate that spells a bleak future. This in turn drives the youth to look for opportunities elsewhere.

The opposition is also arguing that the new constitution should return power to the people. In the constitution drafting process that was initiated by former President Jakaya Kikwete in 2011, the opposition proposed that Tanzania create a provincial administration. However, the move was rejected by the ruling party as it would have apparently created division and endanger national stability.

Why is CCM rejecting changes?

Despite changes brought by Hassan’s new government, talks about constitutional reform appear to be heading nowhere. President Hassan has clearly stated that her current priority is to build up the economy before she can begin to tackle any political challenges such as the constitution. Other ruling party officials are less indirect in their response and say the current constitution has in fact played a powerful role in uniting the country.

“Our constitution is strong and other countries should emulate it. It has united the country during trying moments. In other countries we see chaos and conflict. We should respect our constitution,” says Palamagamba Kabudi, the minister for constitution affairs, who also served as a member of the constitution review committee appointed by former president Jakaya Kikwete in 2011.

We all belong to Tanzania and we need to create the future of this country.

But former prime minister and chairperson of the constitution drafting commission, Judge Joseph Warioba, was quoted by Independent Television (ITV) on 12 July this year warning fellow members of the ruling party that they should understand people’s grievances.

“We must agree to accomplish constitutional change. We must have a common nation stand to accomplish this work. We need to make changes so as to unite this country,” says Warioba, who was prime minister from 1985 to 1990.

As Freeman Mbowe, a leader of the main opposition party Chadema, said earlier this month: “We all belong to Tanzania and we need to create the future of this country. CCM under this constitution cannot guarantee peace and I am saddened by the president’s remarks that the constitution should wait until she fixes the economy. We are ready to fight for a new constitution.”

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