1 October 2012

Tanzania: People Still Need Education On 'Katiba' Meeting

I HAVE just arrived at Mkuyuni area in Morogoro rural district to cover meetings convened by the Constitution Review Commission in this area.

Members of the Commission are here to collect opinions from the wananchi living in this particular place. What these people would love to be included in the new constitution expected to be ready before the end of 2014 will be of much interest. Having disembarked at noon from a Toyota Coaster bus that plies the Msamvu-Mkuyuni route, a distance about 35 kilometres, I met a group of five young men drinking beer at this hour of the day.

I greet them before I order a bottle of water. After a few minutes of informal introduction I asked them whether they are aware of the Katiba Opinion meeting that was going to take place at their Mkuyuni Primary School grounds. "We are not aware of this meeting brother, and there is no information that has been disseminated about the convention. Normally, when there is a reunion in our village, our leaders pass around, telling us what will be happening, and on what date. We are surprised that our leaders have remained silent on this matter," said one Ramadhan Salim, while drinking his beer.

The owner of the bar, James Patrick, also said he was not aware of the assembly, insisting that all young men and women were not aware of the meeting. Not different from them, he too knew nothing about the gathering. What surprised me was a statement uttered by Ramadhan, who asked me: "Are we allowed to attend the meeting?" and then added, "I would really like to attend it and air my views about what should be included in the new constitution.

Please do me a favour, so that I attend," he pleaded with me, after I informed him I was a journalist from Dar es Salaam covering the same meeting. I seized the opportunity to educate the youths of Mkuyuni area on what the Constitution Review Commission was all about and what the Commission was at the time doing in Morogoro region. Impressed by the information and now knowledgeable about the Commission, the young men accompanied me to the meeting's venue at Mkuyuni Health Centre opened just recently.

Among the four Commission's members seated at the high table were Mary Mlingumu Kashonda, Abubakar Mohamed Ali, Raya Suleiman Hamad and the youngest Commission's member, Humphrey Polepole.It was Mama Kashonda who explained the aim of the gathering, and Polepole quickly went through what is contained in the current Katiba, to enable the people get a quick understanding of the current constitution.

Septuagenarian Ramadhani Makangira set the ball rolling by explaining to the gathering what should be contained in the new constitution. A 73-year-old farmer from Mkuyuni area said the new constitution should give more benefits to the elderly.He complained that old people died early because they didn't get medical help when they fell sick.

He called upon the police to stop harassing people because doing so was evil. "Ten police invaded my house during the census. I wondered what they were after. What if I had a gun? I think I would have fired at them and 'war' would have erupted in this place," he said. Abdallah Godi, a 62-year-old resident of Mkuyuni called for the state to punish severely civil servants, who embezzle government's funds. He wondered why people well educated had turned out to be thieves of public funds.

Just like most of his counterparts in Morogoro region, Godi called for Friday to be declared a public holiday to enable Muslims take part effectively at Friday prayers. "Christians rest on Saturdays and Sundays. We also deserve the same right," he insisted.National Examination Council of Tanzania (NECTA) was not spared of criticism by Gadi, who said workers in this body should come from different religions, tribe and various zones.

A farmer in Mkuyuni Abdalah Makumbea called for the new constitution to be outspoken on natural resources, especially minerals because foreign investors appeared to be bigger beneficiaries in this area than Tanzanians themselves. "The constitution should declare the role of village and ward leaders, and also say that such leaders need some payment, either in the form of salary or allowances. These people work hard but they are not paid," he said.

Moshi Majeshi, was one of the few women who voiced her opinion at the meeting in Mkuyuni, insisting that local government authorities should stop collecting taxes from poor people living in rural areas. She called on the government to provide agricultural subsidies to make farmers in rural areas benefit more from their farming activities.

"We need improved services at our health centres because expectant mothers at times go without the necessary services," she said, adding that an exercise book was used at their clinic instead of ideal cards. Shabaan Omari and Abdallah Kawambwa had supportive opinions to that of Godi, demanding that the new constitution should declare Friday a public holiday for Muslims to hold prayers.

They called for the constitution to have the Kadhi be paid for by the government. A maverick, Shabaan added that the new constitution should allow religious political parties.According to Milza Gonza, a farmer at Mkuyuni area, the constitution court should be scrapped in the new constitution because it was 'a toothless bar king dog".

Mr Gonza called for private candidates to be included in the new Constitution at different stages. Likewise, he suggested that, a presidential candidate ought to get 50 per cent of the votes cast. He also suggested that the president should be prosecuted after leaving office for crimes or wrong he committed while in office.

A 47-year Mary Makombe had a similar opinion to that of Mr Makumbea. The old farmer from Mkuyuni repeated Mr Makumbea's request saying that the new constitution should recognise village leaders as employees with a salary to motivate them in their discharge of duty.

She called for the English language to be used from the kindergarten stage to the university level to make students more competent and competitive in the East African labour market. The National Examination Council of Tanzania (NECTA) was also brought into the picture. Mkuyuni village chairman Selemani Mnyani said the new constitution should revive it to make it more effective. "Some of us don't trust some NECTA functionaries. Let it be more representative," he added.

By his account, the national electoral commission should have representatives from different political parties. Among the representatives should be judges and human rights activists, he said. But the Mkuyuni Village Chairman wanted more freedom for Muslims. "The new constitution should allow Tanzania join Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC)," he said and added: "We also need Kadhi courts financed by the government," he said.

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