By ALFRED NGOTEZI, 1st January 2011 @ 16:00, Total Comments: 0, Hits: 5408
UP to the close of 2010, there was every indication that the public was sharply divided over
the country’s constitution.
There were those who believed that the best course of action was to rewrite it. There were also those who preferred doing more ‘patchwork’ on the existing one. As we drew closer to
New Year’s Eve, more and more heavyweights from both sides of the question’s divide added their voices.
In the last few days, the media quoted a long list of big shots proposing to have a new constitution. These included former president Benjamin Mkapa, immediate past chief justice,
Augustine Ramadhani, Registrar of Political Parties John Tendwa and Zanzibar’s Attorney
General Omari Makungu.
This is apart from a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) and opposition parties like CUF and Chadema.
On the other hand, the list of opponents was topped by the Attorney General Mr Frederick
Werema, Cabinet Minister Celina Kombani and a renowned advocate cum legislator Mr Nimrod Mkono.
To me ‘arguing without fighting’ is the summit of democracy, which is why it sounds perfectly
harmonious in Kiswahili: “Kupingana bila kupigana.’ But then President Jakaya had an unexpected New Year gift for everyone.
In his New Year address, he approved writing a new constitution, promising to kick-start the
process as soon as possible. I know some of us may not like the old charter simply because of its advanced age, (33 years!).
But proponents cite a number of shortfalls within the present one. The president’s view is that it has outlived its usefulness.
But other observers feel it grants excessive powers to the executive, rendering impossible the practicability of a three pillar-government. Under the current dispensation, the president
appoints the heads of the two supposedly equal pillars of power: The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chief Justice.
It is the same old logic, the supporters argue: You scratch my back, I scratch yours. And also, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you without annoying the spoon and so on.
Likewise, some of the opponents could simply be in love with the colour of the current constitution or even its contents. Again, it is possible that they believe it still has enough space for more ‘patchwork.’ But I believe there is another critical dimension to it.
The world is not static. It is instructive that even before the advent of the current Information Age that has reduced the universe into a small village, the world breathed with one soul.
One example of such universal consonance is the French Revolution of 1789 whose effects sent ripples of unprecedented bottom-up political changes throughout the world.
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity which rights sprang from the Revolution became pillars not only throughout mediaeval Europe but also cemented the gains of the American Revolutionary War (1775- 1783).
To a large extent, the same values sparked and stoked the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (1917), which gave rise to socialist states and to some extent, factored the creation of the Cold War.
Closely related to that, Africa’s independence in the 60’s brought about a wave of socialist ideas that resulted in socialist regimesin the continent.
It is a fact that almost every new African state claimed linkage to some socialist ideals, whether de jure or de facto. Even celebrated capitalists in Kenya, for example, bragged for
practicing what they called African Socialism.
The same applied to Senegal’s Negritude policies which were pioneered by the country’s first president Leopold Senghor. Likewise, Uganda’s Common Man’s Charter was ‘rooted’ in African Socialism.
When the wave of multiparty politics swept across the world in the mid 80’s, one of the architects of single party rule, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere saw the big writing on the wall.
He did ot try to fight it. Instead, he caught the first plane to the former East Germany to see his old comrade Erich Honnecker (1971-1989). After exhaustively considering the pros
and cons of multiparty politics, he flew back home and literally opened the door for plural politics.
Mwalimu strongly pushed the agenda irrespective of a majority vote against it. Meanwhile, Honnecker who had other ideas, perhaps in defiance of Mwalimu’s counsel, was unceremoniously swept away.
Such is the current debate on the constitution. It is a fait accompli. Quite a number of factors seem to have conspired against the old covenant, justifying the creation of a new one.
It is only fair that history will record President Kikwete fairly, not because he has taken Mwalimu’s counsel at this juncture,but also because he has chosen the most optimal option.
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