Dar es Salaam. The ongoing democratic drive in Tanzania has brought Nyalali recommendations on political pluralism back into the mainstream, with stakeholders demanding the government adopt them wholly as part of national efforts to nurture competitive politics in the country.
The call has intensified since it was given prominence at the national dialogue on 30 years of democratic experiment jointly organised by the Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL) and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) between March 30 and March 31, 2023, in Dar es Salaam.
Bringing Tanzanians from different walks of life, the two-day event served as a tool to reclaim the space for civic participation in a process previously dominated by the political class. Participants of the dialogue agreed that shirking Nyalali’s recommendations on multipartyism will serve the country no good purpose.
Veteran journalist and activist Jenerali Ulimwengu set the tone when he gave a keynote address on ‘Nyalali on 30 years of Tanzania’s democratic experiment.’ A practising lawyer, Ulimwengu pointed out that Tanzania is reaping the fruits it sowed by ignoring recommendations by Nyalali, a celebrated Chief Justice who served between 1977 and 2000.
“Nyalali was explicit in his analysis that the current situation where [the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi] CCM is tied to the state has reached a point where it is very difficult to distinguish between the two,” Mr Ulimwengu said during his hour-long address.
“[Nyalali recommended that as a nation] we are supposed to take deliberate measures to distinguish these two things [CCM and the state], allowing CCM to exist as a political party and the state as the state, accountable to all people,” he added.
“That [recommendation] has not been implemented to this date. As we speak, the ruling party is the state, and vice versa is true to the extent that a retired senior justice can show up during an election with a CCM attire shamelessly,” Mr Ulimwengu commented.
An untenable monopartism
Formed by former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi, the Nyalali Commission was a 20-member commission tasked with collecting citizens’ views on whether Tanzania should continue with the one-party system or readopt a multiparty system.
For four months, Nyalali and his team toured the country, holding meetings that were live broadcast on TV and radio stations, where people expressed their opinions on the best way they would like to organise and conduct their political life as citizens.
In one of its fifty recommendations, the Nyalali Commission recommended that a mono-party system then governing Tanzania be replaced by a multi-party system, giving reasons for arriving at such a conclusion.
The first reason is that a “substantial minority” of Tanzanians made such a suggestion. Secondly, those who wanted to remain under a mono-party system outlined several conditions that the commission thought would only be implementable under a multi-party system.
The commission recommended that for democracy to expand in Tanzania, people’s fundamental human rights should be protected and that the parliament and the judiciary are free to exercise their responsibilities. It also said citizens are supposed to be free to organise in political parties and other associations without state interference.
The commission advised against civil servants being forced to be members of a particular political party. It suggests that they should be free to join any political party providing that they’re not violating their work ethics and discipline.
However, the commission warned that senior civil servants at advisory levels should not be allowed to conduct themselves in a way that reveals their political affiliations. If they want to run in an election, the commission said, they should only be allowed to do so under the conditions that will be prescribed.
The commission also called on all laws and articles of the constitution which undermine democracy and violate people’s fundamental human rights to be repealed or amended as soon as possible.
The March dialogue occurred at a time when there is renewed optimism among democratic actors in Tanzania, demonstrated by President Samia Suluhu Hassan, whose reformist agenda has earned her much plaudits in the country and beyond.
Samia, who came to power on March 19, 2021, following the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli, has taken several steps that have helped redefine Tanzania’s political landscape.
For example, she engineered a political dialogue with opposition parties aimed at building reconciliation and cohesion in Tanzania. She also formed a task force to collect stakeholders’ views on the best way to improve multi-party democracy in the country.
These initiatives notwithstanding some sceptics worry that Samia and her ruling CCM might be playing a game to buy time and deny Tanzanians important legal and political reforms that would entrench pluralistic politics in the country.
This feeling was apparent during the March dialogue that took place at the Kisenga LAPF International Conference Center, drawing participants from CSOs, the media, religious communities and the general public.
Once bitten, twice shy
Anthony Komu, an important voice in the movement to demand political reforms in Tanzania, embodied this feeling when he noted that what Samia is currently doing has been done in the past to distract Tanzanians.
“These tactics serve to neutralise the movement for change and allow a politician to rule in an environment of less noise and disturbances,” Komu, who serves as opposition NCCR-Mageuzi deputy secretary-general, said. “I see Samia reading from the same script as her predecessors.”
The former lawmaker made the observation in the context of demands for the New Constitution where he commented that based on past experience Tanzanians are far from getting the stalled constitution-writing process revived.
His analysis was backed by a renowned lawyer and constitution commentator Awadh Ali Said who said during the dialogue that reforms have had the habit of being delayed in Tanzania to create room for the government of the day to rule as it wishes.
“I can confidently predict that after the task force [that collected stakeholders’ views], we will have another task force to implement those views,” Said, former Zanzibar Lawyers’ Society (ZLS), noted. “It is very difficult for me to confidently predict that we will have the New Constitution anytime soon.”
Samia has promised to revive the constitution-writing process but she is yet to announce the exact date for the process to start, something that opposition parties have been urging her to do.
However, on March 24, 2023, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister Damas Ndumbaro revealed that his ministry’s budget will increase by Sh9 billion in the 2023/24 fiscal year as the government plans to revive the constitutional-writing process.
Leaders listen not
According to Mr Ulimwengu, Tanzania is now suffering from its decision to turn its back on the work that was “excellently and patriotically” done by Tanzanians who genuinely wanted to chart a different future for their nation.
“Successive presidents came, ignored the work by Nyalali, and passed,” Mr Ulimwengu pointed out. “Everyone of them expressed this open desire of maintaining a facade of multipartyism while entrenching CCM hegemony in the country, making Tanzania a de facto mono-party state.”
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Mr Ulimwengu complained about how past leaders were determined to maintain this status quo even if it is by unleashing state violence against individuals who rise up to challenge it.
“Ignoring Nyalali’s recommendations and subsequently declining to work on them indicates just how our leaders are not ready to listen to their people,” he theorised. “Nyalali’s are not the only recommendations that have been ignored. Others on the list are those by Robert Kisanga [and] Joseph Warioba, both on the constitution and corruption.”
“But we have to go back to Nyalali,” the veteran journalist urges. “We have to look at the Nyalali’s report. We should discuss it thoroughly. We should ask ourselves, what is this that Nyalali said that if we adopt and revive it would make Tanzania a better country than it is now?”