Dar es Salaam. Amidst national demands for the New Constitution, concerned citizens gathered virtually on November 10, 2023, to remember the life and times of Dr Sengondo Mvungi, a politician and intellectual who died on November 12, 2013, and his unwavering support for constitutionalism in Tanzania.
Gathering under the auspices of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), which organised a virtual meeting via X Space, long-time human rights activists, intellectuals, politicians and ordinary citizens reflected on the life of the avowed constitutionalists and what lessons it can teach the current generation of social justice activists.
Friday’s gathering of people who knew and worked with Dr Mvungi, who died nine days after robbers attacked him when they invaded his home in Kibamba, Dar es Salaam, occurred against the background of a renewed momentum for the New Constitution, influenced by President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s promise to deliver the document to Tanzanians.
It comes at a time when stakeholders have agreed to proceed with minimum reforms, which would deliver free and fair elections in 2024 and 2025, including amendments to essential electoral laws that the government has already taken to the parliament for first reading.
Speaking before participants delved into the discussion, titled ‘Ten Years Without Dr Sengondo Mvungi: A Reflection on the Demands for the New Constitution,’ Fulgence Massawe, the Director of Advocacy and Reforms at LHRC, said the discussion aimed at examining Mvungi’s principles in advocating for human rights and constitutionalism in Tanzania.
READ MORE: LHRC: New Constitution Is Needed Right Now
“Mvungi, as a [freedom] fighter, had no fear of expressing what he deemed righteous,” Mr Massawe, who doubles as an advocate, said in his opening remarks. “During his life, he fought for several needy Tanzanians on human rights issues, founding several organisations to build strong human rights foundations in the country.”
Dr Mvungi died while he was a member of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC), appointed by then-President Jakaya Kikwete to collect public opinion on the review of the Constitution.
An advocate of the High Court and Court of Appeal of Tanzania, Dr Mvungi taught at the University of Dar es Salaam before moving to the University of Bagamoyo. He was also a member of the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi’s National Executive Committee.
Running as the NCCR-Mageuzi presidential candidate in the December 2005 election with the support of four other political parties, Dr Mvungi placed fifth out of ten candidates, receiving 55,819 votes.
One of the pioneering and founding members of the LHRC, Tanzania’s leading human rights organisation, Dr Mvungi commands respect among the country’s constitutional observers for his unwavering support for the New Constitution, which overrode his entire worldview.
During the discussion, Anna Henga, LHRC’s Executive Director, narrated a story once shared by President Kikwete, who said that one day, he found Dr Mvungi busy writing something, and upon asking him what he was writing, Dr Mvungi replied that he was writing a draft of the New Constitution.
“I asked him, why do you write the constitution alone?” Kikwete reportedly narrated. “He responded yes because I don’t see people with the necessary awareness of the constitution.”
“That just shows you how the issue of the New Constitution was so close to Dr Mvungi’s heart,” Henga analysed during the discussion attended by over 2,000 people on X, formerly Twitter. “He was determined that Tanzanians should have this New Constitution, but death took him before he could see the fruits of his tireless works.”
Harrison Mwakyembe, a former cabinet minister and founding member of LHRC, described Dr Mvungi, with whom he worked at the University of Dar es Salaam, as a man of “exceptional daring.”
“We founded LHRC at his insistence while knowing that both of us were government employees,” Mr Mwakyembe, a lawyer, journalist and author, observed during the discussion. “He was willing to leave government employment to work full-time to build a foundation from which LHRC would grow.”
Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, a renowned human rights activist who once served as the Executive Director of LHRC, recalled how it was hard for her to get her plans approved by Dr Mvungi as a board member if they don’t stipulate how they’ll help Tanzanians achieve the New Constitution.
“He ate and breathed the New Constitution,” Dr Kijo-Bisimba remembered. “He brought a different energy to the Constituent Assembly, where he went to represent his party, NCCR-Mageuzi. He’d underline the importance of the New Constitution in every opinion he makes.”
In recognising Mvungi’s great role in the movement for the New Constitution and the overall human rights discourse in Tanzania, in 2014, LHRC published a memoir titled Sengondo Mvungi: Breathing the Constitution as a tribute to the life of the celebrated intellectual in the country.
The book features tributes from several people who knew and worked with Dr Mvungi during his life, analysing his beliefs, principles and philosophies, underlining their usefulness in charting a new future for the country, where the rule of law reigns supreme and human rights are respected.
Hadija Said is The Chanzo’s journalist from Dar es Salaam. She can be contacted via email@example.com.