The important exercise of soliciting views of Tanzanians, as part of the new constitution writing process has now taken off, as the constitutional commission has swung into action in various parts of both sides of the united republic of Tanzania. A programme indicating how the commission will operate, which places are expected to be visited in the first round of the exercise, and the time schedule, was published in newspapers a few days ago.
This is an important development for, as the Chinese saying goes, a ten thousand miles journey begins with the first step. We can say now history is already being made, considering the fact the citizens were never directly involved in the formulation of previous constitutions as well as the current one.
This is one of the reasons why the legitimacy of both past and present constitutions remains questionable and controversial.
So far so good, but the activity of collecting views from members of the public at this stage raises a few questions among political analysts as well as all those advocating genuine participation of key stakeholders in the constitution writing process, as opposed to handling this aspect as a mere formality. First, is the initial proposal that soliciting views would be preceded by providing a doze of civic education, with emphasis to exposing targeted social groups to the content of the current constitution and enlightening them on the procedure of constitution making.
The above proposal was deemed necessary on the grounds that most Tanzanians in, both urban and rural areas know little, if anything, about the mother law of the land which plays an important part in their lives. Villagers have been saying this without mincing words in meetings organized by activists of civic organizations, political leaders and government officials, since the decision to work on a new constitution was made and announced officially.
There is no contention on whether the citizens of this country are conversant with matters related to the constitution or not. It is an open secret that lucky ones are now getting a Kiswahili copy of the vital document for the first time in their lives. The tendency by the ruling elite to mystify the constitution and regard it as a governance tool relevant to exclusively those in the business of administration is one of the reasons which explain why citizens have always been kept in the dark about these issues. Some analysts, however, opine that all along the name of the game has been to let sleeping dogs lie.
Now, what has happened to the idea of starting with the awareness creation approach? Your guess on this one is as good as mine. We however, know that there has been much controversy on who should be involved in constitutional education matters, although the constitutional review Act guiding the whole process entrusts the function to the relevant commission.
The commission is empowered to delegate this responsibility to others but has to move carefully, as there are all sorts of conflicting interests in this apparently harmless exercise.
Then you have the time-frame constraint, whereby the constitutional review commission is expected to sensitize the citizens, collect views countrywide, synthesize opinions and views obtained from a wide range of human and documentary sources, draft a constitution and file a report within a period of one and half years.
This kind of fast tracking the constitution writing process is not only daunting, but tempt some observes to feel that it may lead to the delivery of a stillborn constitution.
We use the words “may lead to” because all sorts of things are possible under the sun. Our honorable commissioners are, after all, not inventing the wheel and may probably come up with a good and workable draft within such a short time.
Another complication which cries for a solution is the fact that as the views collection exercise is taking place, the law stipulates that there are no go areas which include the setup of the union, the presidency and its mighty powers, and others.
The chairman of the commission, however, says it will entertain debate on any issues which affect the lives of Tanzanians. Does this suggest the commission will go against the law, where necessary? Well, anything is possible in our land of apparent peace nowadays. We wish the commission the best of luck and look forward for a good draft of the constitution.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org