17 September 2012

Tanzania: Parrots Impede Constitutional Commission's Work Progress

Photo: The Daily News
Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Judge Joseph Warioba, speaks at a news conference on the progress of people's views.

PARROTS, ignorance of Constitutional contents, poor attendance of women and lack of aid for handicapped people are some of the challenges in the ongoing work of collecting views on the new Constitution by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC).

People are supposed to express their views to the commission on what they want or they don't want to be included in the new Constitution instead of expressing those views on behalf of other people. Accepting to be spokespersons of other people is tantamount to selling one's constitutional and democratic rights to other people and is a distortion of the forthcoming Constitution.

The new Constitution must reflect and portray the actual feelings of the Tanzanian citizens as expressed in an individual capacity. Those instructing other people what to tell the CRC are doing so to the detriment of the Constitution itself and therefore are saboteurs of the whole effort of seeking a new Constitution.

These are people motivated by self-interests; and to achieve their goals, they enlist the support of other people to magnify the situation and thus mislead the Commission and the entire nation. When President Jakaya Kikwete appointed the commission in April, this year, to consult the people on the new Constitution, he sought for their individual input to enable his government know which direction to follow in the course of drafting it.

After completing phase one of collecting views from several regions including Pemba, Coast, Iringa, Morogoro, Tanga, Shinyanga and Dodoma, the Chairman of the Comission, Judge Joseph Warioba, noted that some people had been given other people's views to present to the commission.

These people, he said, uttered things which when asked to amplify were unable to do so, something which suggested that they were not the sources of the ideas. He appealed to those putting words in the mouths of others to refrain from doing so and let the participants express their innermost feelings themselves. He suspected that those who had been twisting the people round their little fingers were politicians.

Another prominent figure who had also been heard giving similar comments is the prominent academic, Prof Issa Shivji. He has faulted the ongoing collection of views on the new Constitution across the country. Addressing a breakfast roundtable talk on the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar organised by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) in Dar es Salaam recently, he said there were reports that some people had been influencing others on the new Constitution.

He said there were people who reportedly visited residential houses in Zanzibar with intent to influence people on the status of the Union between the isles and mainland. "I've received reports that there are people in Zanzibar who campaign for a contractual Union by going to people's houses and trying to feed people with their ideas," said Prof Shivji. People should refuse to be used as parrots in a constitution-making process.

They should only inject their own ideas into what they think should be incorporated in the new legal document. This document is not only going to affect their social, economic and political life alone but also of the entire society. The Constitution should cater for universal interests and not for politicians' self-interests. Many politicians are always ambitious and opportunistic people. They like using people as bridges to attain their personal goals -- wealth and power, and once successful, they desert them.

The current Constitution, called the 'Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania', was enacted in 1977. Counting from that year to date, this Constitution has been in existence for 35 years. During this period there has been so many changes in the society. Politically, for instance, Tanzania returned to multi-party politics in 1992, after one-party system from 1965.

Thereafter it was a period of globalization and the free market economy, emergence of foreign investors, land disputes, gender imbalance, high unemployment, embezzlement of public funds, and generally in between there have been various changes, for instance, in social, educational, agricultural and economic spheres.

Because of these developments, obviously the existing Constitution has been overtaken by events, hence the need to formulate a new one. People also seem not to know the difference between a Constitution writing and Legislation. They are all laws which guide the governing of a state, organisation or institution. However, while a Constitution is a set of laws as a whole, a legislation has to do with a particular area of the law. For instance, law against prejudice or law against rape. Experience has also shown that many people are ignorant of what is a Constitution. It's not taught in primary and secondary schools despite being the basic law of the land. Even the media rarely conduct lessons on the Constitution. People have always associated the Constitution with the government, judiciary, legislature, lawyers or courts of law. Judge Warioba observed this problem after having an audience with some people who had come to the commission to air their views.

Many people do not know the contents of the Constitution and as a result they're unable to suggest which contents should go and which should stay. "But they were able to express what they thought should be contained in the new Constitution," observed Mr Warioba when briefing the media in Dar es Salaam. Constitution-making does not need one to be a legal practitioner.

All the social, political and economic problems one experiences as a citizen of the country are sufficient materials for drafting a Constitution. However, an individual's insight into the Constitution would enable him/her to constructively suggest what should be included or excluded in the basic law. There was urgent need to provide civic education countrywide before embarking on the view collection exercise.

The Katiba Forum has made attempts to enlighten the people but is unable to cover the whole country. Also, fortunately, some civil society organisations have started to respond to this need, a case in point is Iringa Region. Other regions should follow suit. Another problem the commission experienced was a few women participants.

The commission's meetings seem to attract more men than women. What has cowed women into submission? Husbands, mere fear, naivety or absence of mobilization? As mentioned earlier, anything pertaining to legal matters, people always think, is the responsibility of lawyers or legal experts.

Mr Warioba called on women to turn out to the commission's meeting in large numbers to express their views on the new Constitution. They're the ones who have been very vocal about women emancipation and gender imbalance. This is now an opportune moment for them to insert their interests and rights into the new Constitution. Also there was an oversight in the preparations for handicapped people, especially the deaf, to enable them follow the commission meeting's proceedings and present their views.

Experts in sign language were not present to aid the deaf. It's hoped that the shortcomings observed in the course of the commission's meetings will be rectified before the conclusion of its work in October next year. For those who were unable to meet the commission for various reasons and for those who have already aired their views but have gained fresh ideas, can still communicate with it by letters, e-mail or online.

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