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Tanzania’s undemocratic constitution is a template for disaster

- William Gumede

The country’s one-party cadre system will continue to stunt economic development and growth as long as it’s allowed.

Tanzania’s ruling independence party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is running the country as a party-state, with only loyal party cadres deployed into every sphere of public, private and NGO sectors, undermining the country’s stability, inclusive development, and economic growth.

Tanzania has been ruled since independence in 1961 by a very small CCM party elite, excluding the vast talent, energy and ideas of patriotic Tanzanians who are not part of the ruling party. The CCM, and its predecessors, Tanganyika Union (TANU) on the mainland and Afro Shiraz Party (ASP) in Zanzibar, is the only party that has ruled the country since independence.

Julius Nyerere, the founding independence president and the CCM at independence, argued that democracy was not important, and that development must come first. CCM leaders believed that only loyal cadres could oversee development. Yet, the party’s monopoly over power, the cadre deployments in government, legislatures and business and the lack of a policy of merit since 1961, have made Tanzania one of the world’s poorest countries, with limited democracy, beyond having elections.

The cadre system of governance, combined with the absence of a democratic country Constitution, means there is no system of accountability to hold the governing party, its leaders, and cadres accountable for any policy, decision, or behaviour. They can get away with corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement if they are loyal cadres of the CCM.   

The country’s Constitution, stitched together in 1977, and intended to entrench the power of the CCM in perpetuity, maintain a one-party state and keep its leaders immune from prosecution for wrongdoing is the heart of the monopoly of power of the party. The Constitution gave founding president Julius Nyerere untrammeled power to shape the government, economy, and society. His successors have often used this concentration of power in the presidency, to enrich themselves, the CCM leadership and to side-line critics.

Almost every amendment to Tanzania’s Constitution has been to strengthen the powers of the president, reduce executive accountability and tightened the governing party’s control over the management of elections. Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe, the chairperson of Chadema, said the powers the Constitution give the president, make the president “a dictator or a king”.

The Tanzanian Constitution mirrors the post-independence Constitutions of many other African liberation and independence party governments, which attempted to entrench the liberation and independence parties in power forever, turning African states into party-states, in which ruling parties and leaders virtually “own” the state.

Fredrick Sumaye, the former Tanzania Prime Minister a few years warned anyone of marginalization if they are critical of the CCM: “If you want everything on your side to be okay, just be a member of CCM.”

Such African independence Constitutions put parties and leaders above the country constitutions, meaning party and leaders are above all laws, and cannot be held accountable for corruption, lack of public service delivery and incompetence.

Such one-sided independence Constitutions which make it impossible to hold ruling African independence and liberation movements accountable or voted out, are one of the main reasons for coups, civil war, and country break-ups, as those excluded, resort to violence to either oust the governments or form breakaway countries.

Tanzania’s governing CCM has changed the country’s Constitution 17th times since the colonial-era Constitution of 1962. However, almost every recent constitutional change in Tanzania has entrenched the powers of the party and the president, reduced executive accountability, and reduced the ability of the opposition to win elections.

The Tanzanian Constitution gives immunity from prosecution for wrongdoing to the president, vice president, prime minister, president of Zanzibar, House Speaker, and chief justice.

Article 46(1) and (2) states: “During the president’s tenure it shall be prohibited to institute or continue in court any criminal proceedings against him”. The Constitution, through article 36, vests the president with the power to appoint all heads of departments in the executive, parliament, and judiciary. There is no wall between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The president appoints of the Chief Justice, High Court judges and the Court of Appeal Judges.

The president as stipulated in Article 74 of the Constitution also appoints all the commissioners of the Electoral Commission. All these critical offices have been packed by handpicked CCM cadres.

Tanzanian opposition parties have called for changes to the Constitution to trim the president’s powers, allow legal challenges to presidential election results and establish an independent electoral commission. Instead, the CCM has been unenthusiastic about democratising the Constitution – and risk losing its hold on power and patronage - last year jailing opposition parties calling for constitutional reforms.

In 2011, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete initiated the drafting of a new Constitution, following years of agitation by civil groups, opposition parties and media for a democratic Constitution. A public consultation was conducted in 2012 by a Constitution Review Committee headed by former Judge and former Prime Minister Joseph Sinde Warioba.

However, the draft proposed Constitution, following intervention by then President Kikwete and the CCM leadership, did not cut the president’s powers, did not propose establishing an independent electoral commission and did not allow for legal challenges to presidential elections outcomes. Calls by opposition parties to introduce a provincial government system to distribute development more evenly across the country was also rejected by the governing party, which insisted on the current two-tier system of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar to continue.

Since independence, the country’s development has been unequally centred around the major cities such as Dar Es Salaam, Arusha, and Mwanza, while regions such as Kigoma and Mtwara have stagnated.

Opposition parties protested the inadequate draft – and boycotted the vote for its approval by the CCM-dominated National Assembly. Ahead of the 2015 elections, a referendum, promised by the government, to approve the new Constitution was also cancelled.

The late president John Magufuli said prioritising putting together a democratic Constitution are less important than focusing on achieving goals. Last month, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan when asked about boosting the democratic elements of the Constitution, said: “Give me time so that the economy can stand firm and thereafter we will look after the constitution.”

Current Tanzanian CCM leaders are not learning from their own development lessons since independence, when previous leaders have also focused on development before democracy, which brought dismal results since independence in 1961: the country has achieved neither economic development, nor democracy.

Development can of course happen in any regime if they focus determinedly on industrialisation which focuses on manufacturing new products their countries and the world need, spreading the benefits of development as widely as possible, govern in the widest interests of everyone, no matter their political affiliation, keep corruption at bay, appoint the best talent to manage development and hold elected and public officials accountable.

The CCM which focuses on only appointing and enriching cadres and the regions supporting the party, and lacking any oversight institutions to hold it accountable, are doing the opposite. Without democracy, and its accountability, Tanzania, will remain on its low development growth trajectory, enriching only party cadres, while keeping the vast majority poor, as it has been since independence from colonialism.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the country’s first woman leader, needs to prioritise cobbling together a new democratic Constitution, end cadre deployment and bring in merit into governance, to bring accountability to the country governance system, foster genuine democracy and citizen inclusivity, which are prerequisites for growth, development, and peace.

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand, and author of South Africa in BRICS (Tafelberg). This article was first published on TimesLive/Sunday Times.