Tanzania: as constitutional reform stalls, Jakaya Kikwete risks losing his legacy – By Erick Kabendera

Erick Kabendera (Tanzania)Jakaya Kikwete is serving his second and final term as President of Tanzania. Many people here are now wondering what he might be remembered for after he leaves office in 15 months.

Shortly after his re-election in 2010 (with a greatly reduced majority), he announced that he would review the constitution. The President’s decision to jump on what was formerly opposition territory was uncharacteristic in a country dominated by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

A constitutional review was a subject that CCM had, for many years, been avoiding. This was largely for fear that it would stir up Zanzibari demands for more autonomy from the mainland. But Kikwete pushed on with the plans without the majority support of his party or inclusion the review in its manifesto.

In the days after his re-election, President Kikwete spoke fondly of the changes the new constitution would bring. He promised, without properly weighing up the hurdles the review process would face, that a new constitution would be in place before the 2015 election.

I personally cautioned members of CCM to brace themselves for sweeping changes the new constitution would bring, and openly supported the three-government union structure which had been proposed in the draft constitution.

After months of hot debate and political mudslinging, and having spent huge sums of taxpayers’ money, President Kikwete chaired a meeting of political parties under the aegis of the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) in early September.  It was here agreed that the Constituent Assembly (CA) would be suspended because it was finally realized that it would be unrealistic to expect that the new constitution would be delivered before the 2015 elections.

Shortly before the event, rumours spread that the president’s son had been arrested in China over accusations that he had been caught trafficking cocaine. It was rumoured that in exchange for the freedom of his son the president “˜gifted’ a few gold mines or natural gas blocks to the Chinese government.

After the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) brought up the issue of the union structure as the key plank of the draft constitution (vehemently opposed by the ruling CCM,) opposition members in the Constituent Assembly, under their UKAWA umbrella, walked out – accusing the CA majority, composed mostly of CCM members, of trying to maintain the status quo.

The united opposition parties are now planning to field one presidential candidate in the forthcoming polls. If this is successful then CCM could face one of the toughest elections since the re-introduction of multi-partyism.

When he goes Kikwete will leave behind an old and disunited party whose factional wounds have never fully healed since he won the presidency in 2005. With about 78 per cent of Tanzanians aged below 35, the selection of a candidate who is not able to excite this constituency (which tends to support the opposition) would be a mistake.

The constitution-making process has divided rather than united the country. It has brought about a fierce debate on the issue of dual citizenship, which both President Kikwete and the Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe are on record to have strongly supported, but have failed to get party and CA backing. Zanzibaris are also opposed to the proposal for fear that Arabs who were ousted after the revolution would get the chance to come back and claim property they left behind.

The debate in the CA also showed that, more than ever before in the history of Tanzania, people see their religion as more important than anything else. As a result, many Tanzanians will cast their ballots for candidates on religious lines.

The president’s team now seems to link everything taking place in government currently to the Big Results Now (BRN) initiative – an idea borrowed from Malaysia – geared towards transforming the country from low to middle income status. It is however unlikely to produce results quickly enough to serve as much of a legacy.

Natural gas is a key issue in the BRN initiative and the president said this month that he would be the country’s last leader to preside over a poor Tanzania – an opinion that all but the most patriotic will find excessively optimistic. He has recently found it increasingly difficult to pass legislation which will enable oil and gas companies to operate effectively in the country.

Kikwete’s aides however, still believe that he stands a chance of winning the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize, which is awarded to an African Head of State who has, in the last 5 years, voluntarily given up power (as well as having a good record in government). Such an award would certainly raise the eyebrows of many in Tanzania who have seen the country drift under a leader who is fonder of international engagements than vigorously pursuing reform at home.

Kikwete’s  failure to defend his long-term political ally and friend, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa from corruption allegations (over which he resigned in 2008) is also likely to come back to haunt him if Lowassa becomes the next president. Their relationship is known to have soured after the prime minister appeared to attempt to side-line Kikwete during his time in high office.

This has raised serious concerns that President Kikwete will spend the remaining time before the 2015 election trying to stop Lowassa from getting the CCM nomination. But one hopes he will find time to turn his attention to loftier ideals.

Erick Kabendera is a Tanzanian journalist

 

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