Recently, an Arusha-based non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) network, Angonet, carried public dialogues on constitution and constitutional affairs in five constituencies in Arusha region.
The areas involved are Arusha Urban, Arumeru East and West, Monduli and Ngorongoro. The idea of the meetings was to raise awareness on people’s understanding on different issues related to the national legal document.
Angonet, is one of the NGOs in the country which have been commissioned to carry out public dialogues on Constitution and Constitutional issues.
The project is meant to empower people at the grass-roots to understand cardinal issues related to the country’s constitutional matters and its review process.
Based on the fact that the Constitution is a system for government, codified as a written document, which contains fundamental laws and principles, peoples’ participation is an important aspect than anything.
During the recent meetings, some people got an opportunity to understand the meaning of Constitution and its major changes since independence. Thereafter, they managed to unearth several potholes available in the current document.
“This gave people living in rural areas and those in peripherals opportunities to understand key issues related to constitution and the ongoing constitutional making process,” says Peter Bayo, an activist and executive secretary of Angonet.
Presenting a report on the dialogues held recently across the region, Bayo said that people are eager to see the process is ‘participatory and inclusive’, by ensuring that all people’s queries are taken care without fear or favor.
“People are still pushing for their active involvement in the ongoing process. This is due to the fact that for years, they have denied chances to take part in airing their view in the most critical issues related to country’s development,” he said.
An activist explained that people got an opportunity to understand key issues related to constitution and constitutional affairs, whereby the training package pass through a number of stages for a constitution to be ready for use.
Participants of the meetings, which included both men and women, were trained on various changes made in the 1977 Constitution since the country’s independence.
The Angonet official said the project was very instrumental as it was as a tool towards empowering hundreds of people of different social and economical background, whereby a total of 995 of participants took part in the process.
“This is equivalent to 80 per cent of 1250 participants, who were expected to participate in the dialogues,” he said, adding that it involved people from different calibers including farmers and livestock keepers; entrepreneurs and business community; special groups, students, representatives of civil society organizations (CSOs), and private sector.
“Those dialogues discussed the Constitution and national Constitution review process and strengthening public understanding on Act number 8 of Constitutional Review of 2011,” Bayo said.
According to Bayo, people discussed ways of getting leaders, leadership, and administration and responsibility, obligation and rights of citizens; participation and taking part in the Constitution making process.
He said that participants suggested the need for the Constitutional Review Act to undergo major changes to meet people’s outcry as well as giving enough room for people to air their views on the matter.
“Our task was to raise awareness among people so that they understand the importance of a constitution and how it affects their lives.
This period is indeed an opportunity for Tanzanians, constitutions unlike leaders are not changed every once in a while,” Bayo said, adding that despite the good spirit of the government on the matter; still more need to be done in order to have a better Act.
He said that the current Act need a lot of amendments to meet people’s requirements, rights and give enough room for people to express their views on what they want to be in the constitution.
Angonet also pushes for more civic education amongst the public, so that they become more informed and play their cardinal role in making the constitution.
“As civil society, we want people to be empowered in different ways and at all levels from national to grass-root levels,” Bayo said.
His comment came barely few days when MPs in Dodoma debated the Constitutional Review Bill. During the debate legislators were divided on the proposed amendments to the Constitutional Review Act seeking to substitute district commissioners with Local Government Authority directors in coordinating public opinion gatherings when the exercise begins. The law came into force on December 1, 2011.
Anna Mghwira is one of the facilitators who participated in spreading the constitution ‘gospel’. She said many people in the geographical area were excited with the approach, though they stressed on the need for the process to be held in a very transparent and participatory manner.
“Many people out there are very concerned with the entire process of coming up with the country’s constitution, hence they asked for having enough room for them to participate,” she says, adding: “People in all districts have expressed the need for them to be involved in all constitution-making processes. More are for regime change as they want leaders to accountable to people and not otherwise.”
She said that people appealed to the government and relevant authorities to ensure that all people’s views are taken into consideration, so that the document get people’s mandate.
“This is a golden chance to many of us here in the village,” Loduvo Sangau, a resident of Mbuguni in Arumeru district says, adding that people’s participation in all process of constitutional making was very important to enable the country get a popular constitution.
He says constitution is an important legal document that gives a room for people of all calibers to make their leaders accountable, for anything they have done wrong contrary to the national constitution.
“I commend Angonet and other stakeholders for giving us opportunity to understand key issues in the constitution. I believe that at the end of the tunnel our social and economic rights will guaranteed in the new Constitution,” he says.
Thabita Emmanuel, a resident of Monduli, said that the current constitution has a lot of potholes.
“A constitution is a very important legal document, hence its making processes should be carefully designed to meet people’s demands,” said Petro Ahham, a facilitator.
“They argued that the forthcoming country’s constitution should clearly state that an MP is supposed to be neutral and he/she should be free from being given extra duties like a minister or regional commissioner,” he said.
He said that at different meetings people were conscious of getting a better legal document, which will incorporate all people’s views.
According to Ahham, people at the grass-roots are concerned with the name of the law itself as it is contrary to the whole concept of making a new constitution as it seems to be like it is a Constitutional review process of the 1977 Constitution.
Constitutional matters, and if possible, civic education should be a priority at all levels and at all times.
“This will make people understand key aspects related to Constitution and Constitutional affairs and this will make the document more meaningful to Tanzanians and it will make them free as everybody will understand his/her own right and responsibility,” Ahham concludes.