Party Politics – the worst thing for the Constitutional Review in Tanzania

February 17, 2014 1:11 pm2 comments by:

As the Constitutional Review Assembly in Tanzania is commencing this week, there are a number of issues that the Assembly and the Tanzanian public need to consider.

Constitution, at the very general level, is an instrument that is meant to uphold the rule of law and to guide the country in key decision making especially with regards to territorial /state administration, values, citizenship, human rights, leadership, and resource management.  Because it is one of the most institutionalized documents, it is very difficult to change it once passed.  Since independence in 1961, Tanzania has had one constitution with only a few amendments. The current review is meant to produce a document that will guide Tanzania at least for the next fifty years.

This ‘sacredness’ of constitution requires sober and objective thinking. Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the constitutional review process has been garroted by party politics, which are proving to be counter-productive. At this point, it’s worthy mentioning that the Constitutional Review Commission (as well as the President) has tried best to ignore party politics and very objectively take into consideration the public opinion.  However, there are scaring trends in which we see emotional party politics in some of the key parts of the draft constitution.

Here I will discuss one of these pressing parts of the constitution that needs bipartisan thorough thinking and evaluation. Unfortunately this is the part of the constitution that has been strangled by the party politics to the extent that it cannot receive free oxygen from the public.

This is the issue of the union between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar and the consequent government structure. Aj In the draft constitution that is to be analyzed and discussed by the Assembly, it is proposed that there will be Union Government together with independent governments for Zanzibar and for Tanzania mainland (Tanganyika). In general, one can call this a federal government arrangement.  The Commission proposed this kind of arrangement based on the public opinion. While the main political party-CCM is against this kind of arrangement and in favor of the existing arrangement – i.e. One government with Zanzibar having its own government. The main opposition party is vaguely pro the federal government as suggested in the draft.

In this brief article, I will not go into discussing their arguments for pro and against (which I think none of the party have articulated them properly) but I will emphasis how wrong it is to handle such a crucial issue into party politics.

I am convinced that each of the party’s stances is totally determined by their wish to either remain or get into power. It is thus about power. Not national interests. If the two political parties were looking into this issue from a national interest point of view, we would have seen a more lively debate with objective arguments. To this point, most party followers are supporting their party stance without being sure of what exactly their stance entails. Why can’t we have sober public debates in various forums such as TVs, Social Networks, Radio, etc and outline the advantages and disadvantages of each of the two union arrangements?  It is obvious that having a stable union is key to our national security in terms of security, trade, and even those other interests that constructivists will consider such as values, ideas, identity, culture, and image.

We need to learn from Kenya, a neighboring country that has recently and successfully passed a new constitution after many years of reviewing process. In 2006 while doing my MA in Nairobi, I witnessed   a broken ‘regime’ due to different opinions that leaders in government had concerning the draft constitution. Raila Odinga broke off from Mwai Kibaki’s government as their opinion on the draft constitution differed. Two camps were formed Orange- No, and the Banana-Yes. The two groups articulated their position very well before the referendum. The results were that the Orange camp won, which meant starting reviewing the constitution again. One may say that Raila and Kibaki did not belong to the same party before the 2002 elections and they only formed a coalition to get KANU off power, but the truth is they were both in NARC Coalition and were ruling the government together.

We can also learn from the UK ongoing debates on Scotland independence, where we see the most opposing figures Ed Balls (Labour) and George Osborne (Conservative) strategizing together. Their uniting point is national interest.

I do not have any proof of this, but I know that there are people in CCM who have different views and also there are people in CHADEMA who have different views to the party stance. But we do not see these people coming out and boldly oppose their party stance. Why are we (Tanzanians) ruled by fear, emotions, and unproductive loyalty fuelled by fear? Is this the kind of political culture we are embracing? We have to be openly critical and call upon sober and objective debate to discuss this issue of the union.  The public needs to pressure the Assembly towards objective analysis and away from party politics.  If we only go by party politics in this, it is obvious that CCM stance will win as Dr. Kitila Mkumbo analyzed it a few weeks ago.

Apart from Constitutional matters, there are other two pressing issues that Tanzanians need to look and address them from a bipartisan point of view. These are the issue of elephant poaching and increased economic growth amidst persistent poverty.

The issue of elephant poaching in Tanzania is very painful. It is also hard to tackle just like any other international organized crimes. I must commend the government in particular President Jakaya Kikwete and the Minister for Tourism Hon. Lazaro Nyalandu for working day and night in trying to stop this crime. It is an issue that touches directly into the national interests especially the economy and also ecology.  Unfortunately, we have not seen a bipartisan effort in trying to address this problem. We sometimes hear of criticisms, which are only counter- productive to the efforts done. I wish to see leaders of all political parties actively engaging with the government to fight this syndicate.

Another issue is that of increasing economic growth amidst persistent poverty. This is a paradox to all of us. Both political parties need to objectively discuss and figure out what we can do to develop our economy for the benefit of all of us. This is a developmental issue and party politiking is not helpful at all.

Apportioning blame is only good in highlighting the quest for power.

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