It seems our land of apparent peace and tranquility is soon earning itself another epithet or label. The new tag may as well be the “land of surprises,” as these seem to crop up by the hour.
Among the latest ones is this incident which took place about ten days ago where a district commissioner in Bukoba banned a scheduled indoor meeting convened to brainstorm on the hot topic of the eagerly awaited new constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The newspaper which published the story that DC Angela Mabula had issued a written order to cancel the Foundation for Civil Society (FCS) sponsored event at the last minute.
This happens to be credible, as it is reputed for marshalling all the necessary facts before releasing its stories for public consumption. In any case, no claim of being misquoted has been heard from any quarters since the disturbing story was published.
Here are a few other facts about the cancelled meeting whose focus, as hinted earlier, was on the new constitution, which may help the reader to make his or her judgment on whether it was fair or unfair to cancel the event.
Well, invited participants were from non-governmental organizations, religious and educational institutions as well as registered political parties. Papers were expected to be presented on eye-opening themes which included highlights on Tanzania’s constitutional history, circumstances behind the demand for a new constitution, and the ongoing process of achieving the desired national goal.
What reason or reasons did the DC give to justify banning this meeting which can’t be put in the category of public gatherings which government bureaucrats and coercive instruments of the state routinely claim are a threat to peace and order in the country?
Well, we are told the major justification given in the letter to the organizers of the event is that since the procedures of involving members of the public in giving their views on the new constitution are still being worked out at national level, authorities at district level are not in position to allow any meetings on the constitution until they get the necessary guidelines “from above.”
Most observers, just like the organizers of the flopped, or rather sabotaged function, are both baffled and unable to comprehend what happened and why. One of the questions arising in the minds of those deeply worried by the implications of this incident is – Who said people can not, or should not meet and brainstorm on the new constitution simply because some bureaucratic and legal procedures on how to implement the Constitutional Review Act, 2011 are yet to be concluded?
Another related question is - Does the Constitutional Review Act, 2011 and its amendments mention anywhere in any of its 38 Articles that it is a sin for any group to meet indoors, or even outdoors, and exchange ideas about this subject before the Constitutional Review Commission is in place and blows a whistle for the exercise to take off?
Some of us who are monitoring the new constitution writing process closely have seen no evidence suggesting that the government does not allow the citizens of this country to exercise their freedom of expression and right to information simply because constitutional matters are considered sensitive.
But one cannot rule out the possibility that the honourable DC in Bukoba, who banned the meeting referred to here, may have not even seen a copy of the relevant new law, although a government officer of his rank, equivalent to the colonial district governor, is expected to be in possession of such a document and conversant with its contents, short of which one is bound to make embarrassing decisions under the shallow pretext of “waiting for instructions from above.”
Let it be emphasized that for a DC who is self confident and is not influenced by politically inclined partisan tendencies, his or her decisions on such matters should be based on nothing but ethical upholding of laws and regulations.
The Bukoba incident seems to validate worries expressed by some MPs while debating the amendments in the Constitutional Review Act, 2011 that allowing district commissioners to play a leading role when the Constitutional Review Commission begins the exercise of collecting public views on the new constitution, would cause problems as most of them are victims of political partisanship, resulting from their backgrounds and how they got appointed to these positions. In any case, hurdles of this kind are unavoidable in the process of social change. Crusaders of the new constitution must be ready to face and jump them, at any cost.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)