Can This Country Do What America Did in 1787?

A quick Google News search on Tanzania reveals stories on the killing in Darfur, a new road to be built connecting the country with neighboring Kenya, the fight against fatal diseases in rural areas, and some sports news. None of the most recent stories that came up on the search are talking about the new draft of a constitution which is up for debate in the legislature and which would change the way that the government functions, but this topic is a highly important one for Tanzanians and those interested in the success of a democratic state there.

A debate in council meetings will decide whether or not the newest draft of the proposed constitution released on June 3 is acceptable. Among other changes, this constitution would change the United Republic of Tanzania to a federal government structure, using a union government to link a Tanganyika government with a Zanzabari government that would represent the two majority ethnic groups in Tanzania. Each of these three would have a separate parliament. According to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, the majority of Tanzanians want a three-tier government, but no decision about the current draft of the constitution can be reached until at least September, after the almost 20,000 representatives participate in months of council meetings.

The proposed federal government would still handle foreign affairs, immigration and citizenship, the central  bank and currency, and defense and security among others, but the Tanganyika and Zanzibari governments would have more autonomy in many areas that the current union government controls. According to Constitutional Review Commission Chairman Judge Joseph Warioba, the union parliament would draw 20 members of its parliament from the Zanzibar Isles to ensure proportional representation.

The discussions over the new constitution are contentious for many Tanzanians, perhaps especially for Zanzibarians, many of whom want sovereignty from Tanzania and do not approve of the new draft, which calls for a union of the two governments.

“It is Tanganyikans who stand to gain from the proposed constitution,” said one resident. Another said that “this draft constitution is a joke and what it has done is to benefit mainlanders.”

One issue that has arisen are land rights: Currently Tanganyikans cannot lease land on Zanzibar while Zanzibaris can lease property on the mainland, and there are questions about whether the new constitution will restrict the lease capacity further, potentially kicking Zanzibaris off of the mainland and back to the isles.

Some experts are also concerned about the ramifications of the new constitution on citizenship in Tanzania and whether the new laws will complicate birth certificates, applying for residency, and declaring national citizenship, especially considering the ethnic and geographic divide between Tanganyikans and Zanzibaris. Others are concerned with the costs of holding three general elections, arguing that the Tanzanian economy will not be able to support such expenditures.

While politicians and academics are arguing about the new draft of the constitution and how government will work, however, Tanzania is still struggling with basic human rights such as access to clean water, medicine and education. Ludovick Leon, a senior public finance management adviser for the Ministry of Finance and Treasury in the Solomon Islands calls Tanzania’s development since independence “dismal.”

The new draft includes positive changes such as wider press freedoms and the right for the public to access information, as well as a guarantee of universal education and a new requirement that the parliament be 50% women as opposed to the current 30%. All of these revisions will undergo scrutiny by district councils over the coming weeks, each of whom will make a recommendation for further changes.

But can this new draft raise the standard of living of the average Tanzanian, and how will it affect the daily lives of the people who live under it? It may be impossible to know until full implementation occurs, but until then, the small number of articles in that Google News search on the constitutional drafting process indicates that Tanzanians may have other concerns outside of the political system.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Kara Freedman

Kara studies international relations at Pomona College in sunny Southern California, and is interested in development and politics in West Africa and Latin America.

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