Is Mbowe still unbowed on Katiba or building bridges with Samia regime?

By BOB KARASHANI

By BEATRICE MATERU

The release of Tanzania’s main opposition party leader, Freeman Mbowe and three co-accused on March 4 intensified the calls for a new constitution which is believed to vest excessive powers in the presidency.

Katiba Mpya, Swahili for “new constitution” has been a trending hashtag on Tanzania social media timelines and a refrain for opposition parties, activists and even religious leaders in all parts of the country.

The movement, which started in 2012, was recently fuelled by Mbowe’s case and his release says the 1977 constitution is outdated and vests too much power on the president.

Dr Paul Loisulie, political analyst and lecturer at the University of Dodoma, told The EastAfrican that, the Constitution is a historical thing that needs to change from time to time.

“It is undeniable that the current constitution vests almost all powers on the president. We need to agree on the need to change/reform the constitution to address such weaknesses,” he said.

Dr Loisulie said that Mbowe’s case has, to a great extent, exposed the gaps in the current constitution. “It is clearly the judiciary is not truly free to exercise court decisions objectively,” said Dr Loisulie.

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The 1977 Constitution recognises the president as the head of state and government and therefore entitled to appoint heads of the different branches of government including the DPP, head of Electoral Commission and Principal Judges of the High Court.

Article 58B and 109(1) of the constitution gives the president powers to appoint ‘Principle Judge of the High Court as well as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Existing provisions

“There shall be a Principal Judge of the High Court (who in the following provisions of this Constitution shall be referred to as the “Principal Judge”) and other Judges of the High Court who shall be not less than thirty who shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission,” under article 109(1) and;

“There shall be a Director of Public Prosecutions who shall be appointed by the President from amongst persons with qualifications specified in sub-article (2) of Article 59 and has continuously held those qualifications for a period of not less than ten years,” under article 58B (1).

Whereas article 74 (2) states that, “The President shall appoint the Vice-Chair of the Electoral Commission on the basis of the principle that where the Chairman hails from one part of the Union, the Vice-Chairman shall be a person who hails from the other part of the Union,” a clause opposition says is against the letter and spirit of a free and fair election.

“The President is also a candidate at some point and a chairperson of a political party that an electoral commission is supposed to supervise. See where the confusion is?” said Gervas Lyenda Chadema spokesperson for coastal region while explaining the opposition party desire is for the three pillars of the state to be independent, checks and balances be observed and a free electoral commission for free and fair elections to be achieved.

Mr Lyenda noted that the Warioba draft proposed a better mechanism to ensure that heads of all vital government institutions and branches are derived from independent boards and through transparent procedures, free from the president’s interference.

Liberatus Mwang’ombe said, “One person, the President, has so much power and control over our life, liberty and reputation. This must end now. #KatibaMpya #FreemanIsFree,” on Twitter after Mbowe’s release after the state dropped the case.

But Dr Loisulie insists that discussions on new constitution must continue, either in evolutionary or revolutionary ways. “We should never cease educating and talking about it. An evolutionary way may take time but change will come. A revolutionary way — a sudden change — doesn’t always bring positive results. Those who are educated by will to continue, but those annoyed by it will continue as well,” noted Dr Loisulie.

Meanwhile, Chadema is meeting next week to discuss the party’s relations with other opposition parties which became dicey during his eight-month incarceration.

Speaking to Chadema’s women’s wing Bawacha at an International Women’s Day event in Iringa on Tuesday, Mr Mbowe said the meeting would also be used to chart a “roadmap” for Chadema’s future engagements with the state following his “reconciliatory” meeting with President Samia at State House Dar es Salaam the same day he was released.

He sought to allay concerns raised within the party that his meeting with the president would halt to Chadema’s crusade for a new constitution and independent electoral commission.

Broader public consensus

“We only discussed the fundamentals of an equal and harmonious political dispensation from now on and lay the foundation for regular dialogue between the opposition, the ruling CCM and the state to prevent the kind of acrimony that existed before,” he said.

For Mbowe, “political will for reconciliation” would be important going forward and the early optimism generated by the State House meeting would eventually be “measured by action.”

Another prominent opposition party, ACT-Wazalendo, has disclosed plans to renew its own campaign for an independent electoral body on March 19, the first anniversary of President Samia’s ascension to power.

The party said it prioritised the electoral issue “as this, once achieved, will provide the right environment to push for a new constitution based on a broader public consensus.”

The Tanzania Centre for Democracy, a grouping of political parties including CCM, is also set to host a second ‘Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Conference’ in Dodoma on March 30-31 with President Samia expected to attend as chief guest.

Endless talk

TCD chairperson Zitto Kabwe, who is also ACT-Wazalendo party leader says, two draft bills for a new National Elections Act and Political Parties Act have been prepared with assistance from the non-profit Legal and Human Rights Centre for discussion at the conference.

“We don’t want this conference to be just another platform for endless talk. Our aim is for the bills, once we all agree on their content, to be taken to parliament and made into laws,” Zitto said.

Apart from CCM and ACT-Wazalendo, TCD’s current membership includes Chadema, the Civic United Front (CUF) and the NCCR-Mageuzi party.

Chadema boycotted the first conference convened by TCD in Dodoma last December, citing the then ongoing Mbowe terrorism trial as evidence of insincere commitments towards ending an opposition clampdown initiated by President Magufuli’s administration.

The December conference also triggered heated confrontation between Zitto and other Chadema leaders on social media after he adopted what they perceived to be a “begging” tone in asking President Samia to exert her influence in getting Mbowe’s case dropped.

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