Dar es Salaam. It may sound like a cliché but pro-democracy actors here have pointed out that the future of Tanzania’s multiparty democracy lies in the citizens’ ability to push for the New Constitution and the willingness of those in power to deliver the mother law.
During a democracy symposium organised by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) here on Thursday, politicians from across the political divide, civil society representatives and religious leaders were almost unanimous on the urgent need for the New Constitution if Tanzania’s democracy is to have any meaningful future.
LHRC organised the symposium to commemorate the International Day of Democracy, marked worldwide on September 15 of every year. This year’s commemoration coincided with the 30th anniversary since Tanzania re-introduced multiparty politics in 1992.
Ubungo MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM) Prof Kitila Mkumbo told those present at the symposium that now is the time for Tanzania, as a country, to push for the New Constitution, urging citizens to exploit the willingness for political reforms shown by President Samia Suluhu Hassan to achieve that end.
“We should exploit this willingness to build the required institutions for a multiparty democracy to thrive in the country,” said Mkumbo who has once served as a minister. “These institutions include the New Constitution. We can no longer wish away its urgency.”
Prof Mkumbo reminded his listeners of the relationship that exists between democracy and development, pointing out that it will be nearly impossible for a country like Tanzania to ensure sustainable development without embracing democracy.
“It is very important for Tanzania as a country to understand that sooner than later; it is important that we ensure that we are a working democracy,” Mkumbo, who used to work as a university professor, said.
Since she succeeded the late John Magufuli as the President of Tanzania, President Samia has been lauded for her readiness to chart a different political trajectory from the one her predecessor tried to follow.
She has, for instance, initiated a process to improve Tanzania’s multiparty democracy, forming a task force that right now is comprising its reports on stakeholders’ views on the issue.
Her party, CCM, which she chairs, has also joined the call demanding the New Constitution, telling the public that the sooner the mother law is delivered the better.
President Samia even did an op-ed to commemorate Democracy Day, urging Tanzanians to be patient while her task force is finalizing its reports and see whether she can lift the ban imposed on political rallies. The ban was imposed by the late Magufuli.
A thorn in the opposition’s side, the ban has received criticisms from a number of democracy actors in Tanzania and beyond not only for its arbitrariness but also for its role in undermining political pluralism in the country.
It was not surprising then that CHADEMA secretary general John Mnyika, speaking during the symposium, took issue with the ban, saying a country cannot call itself a democracy where political parties are not free to do their activities.
On top of demanding the lifting of the ban, Mr Mnyika underscored the need for the New Constitution, noting that Tanzania cannot allow its democratic system depends on the whims of the ruling elites.
“Tanzania has never allowed a multiparty system in its original meaning; only a facade has been permitted,” he noted. “It is for this reason that our party’s main preoccupation right now is the New Constitution. We believe that once delivered, the document will lay a strong foundation for multipartism to flourish in Tanzania.”
Speaking on the need for the New Constitution, scholar-activist and an avowed member of opposition party CHADEMA Prof Azaveli Lwaitama pointed out that the mother law was needed so that Tanzanians could finally choose their own leaders.
“A multiparty-sensitive constitution would not allow the presence of district and regional commissioners,” said Lwaitama who has been active in pro-democracy movements in Tanzania for quite some time now. “The New Constitution would do away with this colonial arrangement.”
On her hand, Dr Analile Nkya, a veteran journalist and long-time pro-democracy activist reminded participants of the symposium of the role the media can play in furthering these demands, pointing out that there will be no true democracy without the free press.
“But for the press to perform its duties effectively, the legal and regulatory regime has to be friendly,” said Dr Nkya, one of Tanzania’s outstanding journalists. “That is not the case for Tanzania. And we cannot emphasize how much this affects the media fraternity as well the community at large.”