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Tanzania: What’s really behind CCM’s refusal to change the constitution?

By Abdul Halim, in Dar es Salaam
Posted on Thursday, 22 July 2021 11:29

Former Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete and President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Gitega, Burundi June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

"We need a new constitution" is increasingly a demand growing in popularity in Tanzania's online sphere for the past three months. But such public outcry is met the ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM)'s refusal to commit to any changes; for now. 

The opposition and other activists have been calling for constitutional reforms that would allow for the formation of an independent electoral commission, checks and balances within the administration and accountability for all members of the acting government.

Back in 2014, a process to change the constitution was halted after politicians failed to reach consensus on the model of the government.

After popular consultation in 2012, the then constitution review committee, headed by former judge and Prime Minister Joseph Sinde Warioba, came out with three-tier government model:

  • Mainland government;
  • Zanzibar government;
  • Union government (Union of mainland Tanzania with Zanzibar).

This model was however rejected by the constituency assembly at the behest of Tanzania’s ruling party, CCM, headed by President Jakaya Kikwete. They believed, and to continue to believe in a two-tier government: mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Amid an opposition boycott, the assembly later accepted a less ambitious, ‘Kikwete-approved’ draft constitution, even though it was never put to a popular referendum as planned, since the vote was called off ahead of the October 2015 elections.

During his tenure, the late president John Magufuli had publicly declared that his government would focus on attaining economic goals rather than constitutional change.

Why CCM remains reluctant to change the constitution

First and foremost, for the longest time, changing the constitution was never a priority for the ruling party: the last amendments were made in 1977. In subsequent years, when the opposition would add it to their agenda, debates would heat-up and the CCM would shoot it down.

In June this year, Shaka Hamdu Shaka – the CCM’s ideology and publicity secretary – addressed party elders in Tanga  – the northeast part of the country – and said there were more important governance issues to deal with rather than constitutional amendments.

“Let’s join hands and support our president. We need health care facilities, water and sanitation. Those noise makers (opposition) have no agenda,” said Shaka, who is from semi-autonomous Zanzibar.

Secondly, the CCM benefits from the current constitution as it is gives the party privileges. For example, the opposition often cites lack of neutrality in the constitution. As per Article 74 (1) and (7), the sitting president is also the chairperson of the ruling party. This is also the person who appoints the chair of the electoral commission and its commissioners. That alone means the CCM has influence over all the electoral organ.

On 29 June, when President Samia Suluhu Hassan was asked about making amendments, she said: “Give me time so that the economy can stand firm and thereafter we will look after the constitution.”

But in an interview with BBC Swahili on 13 July, Zitto Kabwe – party leader of opposition ACT Wazalendo – said the president’s response was simply a distraction to avoid any real discussion on the issue. “There is no link between drafting the constitution and fixing the economy. The current constitution is almost 40 years old and the CCM still haven’t managed to fix the economy.”

Thirdly, the CCM fears losing its grip on power. Since the country gained independence from Britain in December 1961, the CCM (and its predecessors Tanganyika African Union TANU on the mainland and Afro Shiraz Party ASP in Zanzibar) is the only party that has ruled the Swahili-speaking nation. Therefore, rejecting change to the constitution is likely a means of ensuring the CCM remains in power.

If you want everything on your side to be okay, just be a member of CCM.

Officials in the ruling party say they will defend the current constitution until their final breath, accusing the opposition of being power-hungry. “All what they want is to be in power, they do not represent any person’s ambitions,” says Livingstone Lusinde, an MP for Mtera Constutuency.

What CCM gains by rejecting a constitution change

The CCM believes the current constitution maintains and promotes unity and stability in the country. People like Palamagamba Kabudi, the constitutional and legal affairs minister, says Tanzanians should respect the current constitution because it has helped the nation during ‘dark times’.

“This is our ‘mother law’. The constitution is good and well organised, we should thank our founding fathers for creating this document. We are all obliged to respect it irrespective of our political affiliations,” says Kabudi who taught law at the University of Dar es Salaam for many years.

By rejecting calls for a new constitution, the CCM also hopes to maintain its current structure of the two-tier union government. This means that the government runs all union matters and mainland affairs, while the Zanzibar administration wields control over its region.

Although I don’t think he is leading the country, I believe his advice is taken into serious consideration by President Samia [Hassan].

Remaining in power means the CCM can also continue to wield influence in the economy. It currently owns shares in almost all sports stadiums in Tanzania as well as parcels of land and investment [projects] in different parts of the country.

Maintaining the status quo also means the CCM can ensure that it remains the only powerful and formidable political force in Tanzania. The structure of the CCM and how it is run means it is easy to find party cadre serving in security organs while performing duties for the ruling party. As former prime minister Frederick Sumaye once said: “If you want everything on your side to be okay, just be a member of CCM.”

Is President Hassan merely a puppet for Kikwete?

There is growing discussion among Tanzanians that former President Jakaya Kikwete is in fact leading the country from behind the scenes.

A member of parliament from Zanzibar who asked to remain anonymous, tells The Africa Report that Kikwete has influence in how things are shaping-up in the country, such as the handling of the pandemic and engagment with the international community.

“We all know that he (Kikwete) was sidelined by President Magufuli’s administration. Although I don’t think he is leading the country, I believe his advice is taken into serious consideration by President Samia [Hassan]”.

This could be why Hassan remains opposed to the issue of the constitution change, as it was under Kikwete that the last attempt to change it never went further than a cancelled referendum.

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