Saturday, April 2, 2011

Morning Constitutional

I was trying to squeeze the last drops of sleep out of my Saturday morning when The World's Best Housekeeper switched on the radio. And just like that I was up and out of bed: someone was discussing the constitution! To be precise, ITV and Radio One were broadcasting the second discussion on the proposed Bill to review the constitution that's going to appear in Bunge Anytime Now. They are holding these debates at the University of Dar es Salaam, and Nkrumah Hall was overflowing with young men and the odd young woman. The front rows held all the usual suspects: a row of professors, lawyerly types, opposition politicians and other famous talking heads.

Happy days. It's easy to focus on what's not functioning in a system, makes for better copy most of the time, but the truth is that part of this blog's work is to document (haphazardly) the democratic evolution of this one African polity. We're doing alright, yeah. I don't think my parent's generation was personally invested in the constitution in their day- these were not matters that plebs discussed when there was Nyerere to tell us how to think and what to do and when to do it. My generation does not have that luxury, nor do we want it.

Which is why I had to roll out of bed- we're breaking new ground here. No Bananas and Oranges, no oversimplification, no donor-interests in the driver's seat. Just straight up talking about how we want the country to be run- that's the stuff of democracy. And it's happening at the hill. That's a quiet achievement worth celebrating.

No, we're not likely to pull a South Africa. If the constitution does get amended, I expect we'll have a lot of hair-pulling and name-calling left to do. As it is the Commission that is tasked with doing this review is working under dodgy circumstances, as Presidential commissions are wont to do- no transparency. The opposition parties are doing their fire and brimstone thing, obviously hoping that someone will give them a fight so that they can look like political martyrs. CCM- conspicuously, and wisely, absent. Quality of discussion: variable.

But all of these are expected hiccups on the road to a new and improved constitution. At least if we do this one thing and pass the Bill, the door will be opened up and we'll do more as time and public opinion dictates. My favorite part: this older gentleman stood up and pointed out that public servants have forgotten themselves and gone feral. How is it that we have allowed our public sector to run off unhinged and start dictating to We The People how things must be done? A complete perversion of the governance relationship if there ever was one. We are a democracy, after all and this babu had reminded us of a crucial truth.

Too often we forget that the government is here to serve us, and not vice versa.

I only have the one worry when it comes to this constitutional review thing: freedom of expression. Watching the discussion, it is obvious that the moderator is trying to control the crowd so that nothing too offensive gets said. On the one hand, this is fine: courtesy by all means. On the other hand, the moderator is stifling contributors. It's a fine balance and I don't know if he's getting it right. I'm watching a young man having a Live TV meltdown over his problems: cost of living, hard life, corruption. Very vigorous, but totally offpoint. Not to mention hysterical.

Ah well. At least we're talking, neh?


  1. It was a pretty interesting discussion when I could listen. Yusuf Makamba was there, and he might have spoken - there was a voice that was very much like his but I was in another room so didn't see.

    I did enjoy Professor Issa Shivji professorially telling everyone exactly how to change the constitution according to sura na section of the constitution. Had a good chuckle as the mediator failed to reign him in. It's PROFESSOR SHIVJI, yo!

    Also enjoyed the contrast between the Young Turks (turkeys?) lighting fires (CUF, the uni student who felt food prices and suchlike were more important than this ka-document) and the Wise Old Men saying 'how do you mean it?'

    On that note of lighting fires, I was listening to a couple of Olds and one Young last week, talking about having kavita kadogo, ka wiki moja tu!, kutuweka sawa. I told them ain't no such thing, but logic was not requested...

    Anyway, in brief, wenyenchi are heading towards that certain 'had enough' point, and I don't know that our politicos and leadership are fully aware.

  2. hmmm. politicos and leadership, fully aware? might be asking for a bit much there...


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