Friday, 16 August 2013

Kenya Referendum Talk: Lessons for Constitution Making in Tanzania

Nico Minde
Constitution making is not a one-time event, rather it is a long time and historical process that may be highly contentious, highly volatile and could cause massive divisions if not handled well. I once wrote in this blog that no country can say it is going to write a constitution in one or two years as envisioned by Tanzania. Building strong democracies world over require building strong constitutions and strong constitutional culture (constitutionalism). With Tanzania in this process of drafting a new constitution, we should be reminded of the challenges that lie ahead. We should take substantive lessons from our neighbors Kenya. Kenya has now being involved in two constitution referendums between two crucial general elections. 

In 2005, the proposed constitution was rejected in a landslide "No Vote" which was spearheaded by the opposition together with some 'rebel' cabinet ministers. The move highly embarrassed the government and president Mwai Kibaki who then dismissed the rogue cabinet ministers. Kenya then experienced the worst moment of its history after the 2007 general elections. Violence erupted after dissatisfaction with the presidential elections killing and displacing many Kenyans. Our neighbors saw this as an opportunity to speed up the then stalled constitution making process. Under Agenda 4 which was one component of Agenda items of the National Accord Reconciliation Agreement (NARA) there was need to examine and address constitutional, legal and institutional reforms, poverty and inequality, youth unemployment and land reforms. It was mediated by former UN secretary General Kofi Annan as a measure of restoring sustainable peace in the country. The success of this process came when Kenya voted in a peaceful referendum in August 4 2010 and subsequently promulgated in August 27, 2010 in a colorful ceremony. 

Despite 67% of Kenyans voting for the Proposed New Constitution, there is still dissatisfaction with a number of key issues. A group allied to the opposition Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) called March 4 Movement (M4M) is calling for a referendum to change the constitution by having an electoral college system when electing a president and not through a popular vote as it is currently (more details here). The senate is also dissatisfied with the pace of devolution and revenue allocation in the counties. The referendum talk should be a reminder to Tanzania in key constitutional making issues. One is the form of government. Tanzanians should debate thoroughly on the type of government that will best suit us. This will among other things include the role of the President, the nature of the political union between Tanzania mainland and Tanzania-Zanzibar, the role of the legislature, the election of the president and so on. The other crucial factor is the role of provincial administration in governance. The constitution councils (Mabaraza ya Katiba) should take positive lessons from Kenya while debating on the keys issues as raised herein.    

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