It was a brutal New Years in Tanzania. Courageous protesters started to lay the country’s Road to Democracy but were bulldozed down. This Road is as full of pitfalls as the proposed road in the Serengeti, but this one’s got to be built!
Tanzania’s main city of Dar-es-Salaam – normally in structured chaos with millions of people bustling through overcrowded bus depots and through congested city streets – resembled a ghost town last Tuesday following a repressive response by police to a little demonstration calling for a new constitution.
Shops were shuddered. Streets were empty.
Several hundred activists had decided to ignore a police order banning their demonstration from submitting a new draft constitution to the Justice Minister. The group was hardly larger than a crowded bus stop. But the government responded with enough police, tear gas and even live ammunition to rival the anti-defense missile system that one of its last Prime Ministers tried to buy.
So the demonstration was immediately scattered. But courageous protesters then led police on a cat-and-mouse chase through the city as multiple individuals running in different directions pretended to be the ones with the actual “document” they were trying to deliver.
A draft of a new constitution. Which, presumably, allows peaceful protest.
The air cleared, the tear gas dispersed and the weekend was lazy as normally would be the case on New Years. Except in a complete reversal that made the demonstration seem successful, Tanzania’s president over the weekend agreed to form a commission to review the constitution.
Jakaya Kikwete didn’t say so himself, and that was a mistake. He let an important don of the University of Dar-es-Salaam make the announcement. Dr. Benson Bana said Kikwete had asked him to form a committee to start the process.
It’s all so absurd, frightening and enlightening. Why make the decision, and then relegate it such little importance and issue the announcement during the New Years’ weekend?
Because (1) you have no intention of following through, or (2) the movement is growing so powerful you’re trying to defuse it?
Tanzania has always had a much more authoritarian government than its sister, Kenya, ever since at Independence it fell firmly into the eastern “communist” camp. That was reformed considerably in 1986-1988, but the same political party has remained in control nonetheless.
Politically, (i.e., in their respective original constitutions) there couldn’t be two more different countries than Kenya and Tanzania. Yet for the last generation daily life has been very similar.
I find the greatest difference in education. Tanzanians as a whole are better educated than Kenyans, a result of Tanzania’s historical attention to education, but there are many more very highly educated Kenyans than Tanzanians a result of being able to pay for the Ivy usually abroad.
And that means that Tanzanians are much less tribal than in Kenya, one of the real pitfalls of many African societies trying to emerge into the modern world.
There is much less economic class stratification in Tanzania than Kenya. But as seems to have been proved in history, that produced less wealth overall. There are many, many more rich Kenyans than Tanzanians. (And also, correspondingly, many more very poor Kenyans than Tanzanians.)
Tanzania’s election the end of November was declared fair and free by most outside observers, so the issue is less how democratic this single election was than the way elections as a whole are handled.
It would be unthinkable, for example, if the Kenyan government banned broadcasting political debate between candidates as is the case in Tanzania. In fact, the ruling party in Tanzania even banned its candidates from participating in debates at all – whether they were broadcast or not!
It is, in a nutshell, an excellent example of the difference between a more socialist and a more capitalist society.
And now after a generation or so, the more educated (Tanzanians) know better that they are less rich than some of the less educated neighbors (Kenyans).
So Tanzanians are split right down the spine of morality. The proactive middle class demonstrating Tuesday wants more wealth and believes the way is through more democracy. The plutocracy argues that unshackling society to increase wealth also will increase poverty, or at least the gap between the rich and the poor.
Both are right. But who has the purer motivations?
A policeman firing on an unarmed demonstrator is the answer. One believes in his heart. The other believes in his gun.
Here’s the time line since the end of November election:
Several days before Tanzania’s election in November, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs and Justice Ms Celina Kombani declared the government would not consider altering the constitution.
A day or so later, the newly elected MP from from Arusha, young Godbless Lema, told cheering supporters that a new constitution was needed to “liberate all of us. Otherwise, we will continue guarding our votes at polling stations during each election.”
The next day, December 9, Tanzania’s Chief Justice, Augustino Ramadhani, applauded Lema’s statement and urged the government to consider a new constitution. (Here’s a great irony. Ramadhani made the statement in a speech at the Russian Cultural Center!)
The ball was rolling.
A week later, the government nodded a very little bit. Too many newly elected MPs, even from its own party, were talking about a “new constitution like Kenya.”
Reversing Kombani’s November 28 pronouncement against any new constitution, a high government official, John Tendwa, told a forum in Dar on December 14 that calls for a new constitution were legitimate.
Four days later it reached to the very top.
On December 18, Tanzania’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, said the government should look into revising the constitution. This was major. The PM is the probably the second-most important man in the government.
But still Kikwete didn’t chime in.
On December 23, steel reeling from a separate election in Zanzibar from which they felt denied real representation, the Muslim organizations in Tanzania came out very strongly in support of Pinda’s statement.
A week ago, the main opposition in Parliament – still small but growing – also called for a constitutional review.
The next day, Tuesday, a ridiculously large police force brutally dispersed several hundred demonstrators.
A few days later, bubbly still effervescing, Kikwete tells a university professor to form a committee to look into the matter.
This is not strong leadership. It’s a wimp wondering where to go.
I see no choice. Tanzania is falling way behind Kenya in all areas: economy, tourism, and perhaps now, even education. Its archaic form of government is stifling the manifestations of its successful process of educating its population.
Tuesday’s demonstration is a sign. Ignore it and the country will head right off the cliff.