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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why some elements of the elite are worried about a new constitution

20th November 2011

A spectre is haunting the nation. This spectre is nothing else but the birth pangs of a new constitution. Since the birth of new constitutions anywhere is, in most cases, not a child’s play or a tea party, we are likely to witness a number of happenings in the coming days and years until the baby is born - hopefully alive, although a stillbirth cannot be ruled out even by proven masters of the art of positive thinking.

Yes, not only talk about a new constitution is in the air everywhere and proving to be a key national agenda in the land, but there has been real drama taking place in one of the important pillars of the state, that is Parliament.

Civic sector players are also not doing badly in the unfolding constitution making game, whose rules are as contentious as the concept itself. Reporting on what transpired in the August house this week, one of the serious daily tabloids came up with an eye-catching headline of ”rough road ahead as the constitutional bill is tabled”.

Definitely the report referred to the rocky take off of the bill to put in place a mechanism of writing a new constitution, which was characterized by confrontational verbal debate, leading to the walkout of MPs of the major opposition party and few others from a small player in the opposition politics league.

But it is what went on when the remaining MPs reconvened in the absence of their protesting colleagues which raises concern about the direction of the constitution writing process.

We witnessed more hot air than hot ideas, a tip that only few focus on one noble goal –that is to debate, argue, counter-argue but eventually come up with the best possible new constitution to guide the nation in the challenging future.

As we attempt to figure out what is really happening and the motives behind these developments, it is important to underscore a few things.

First, we are not the only ones involved in the new constitution establishment initiative. There are many countries, especially in the developing world, which are busy with the same exercise, while several others have accomplished the mission in recent years - Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa etc.

Why this unprecedented demand for new constitutions? The answer is straightforward - there is awakening and realization by progressive citizens and, to some extent, members of the public that a country’s constitution is a vital compass that is an important prerequisite for good governance. Since good governance is wanting in many countries, the tendency to go back to the basics, revisit and formulate the countries’ mother legal roadmaps is inevitable. In fact those in power are under pressure to do it.

But you have sections of the elite in many societies, ours inclusive, who are not eager to see constitutional reforms, for a simple reason that they are beneficiaries of the status quo, characterized by bad governance - which allow them to misappropriate public resources with impunity.

As far as these social pests are concerned, any drastic changes in the way of managing state affairs is likely to put them at a disadvantage by plugging the administrative loopholes which give them leeway to steal. A situation may also arise whereby some suspected looters may be investigated and required to account for their past actions. Who says this is not a scaring scenario for all those living in glass houses?

Elitist groups determined to rock the constitutional boat, and where possible give us old wine in a new bottle, are easily identifiable. You have senior public officers in the bureaucracy, with powers to make vital decisions on the allocation of national resources who use their power for personal gain.

There are politicians who have bought their way to power, and are busy amassing wealth, left, right and centre. We don’t have to forget some corrupt businesspeople out there, who collude with the fore-mentioned to bleed the nation dry.

In short, constitutional reforms in Tanzania have many pretenders plotting to either dilute or derail them. One of the ways to achieve this is to ensure the legal mechanism to establish a proper launching pad of the process is undermined. The only solace here is that they are delaying the inevitable for, as one philosopher put it, we can stop all other things but change. In the end truth and justice will prevail.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant. [email protected]

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