TANZANIA AS A DEMOCRATIC ONE-PARTY STATE

In the elections to the Legislative Council of 1960, the first held on a common roll franchise, the Tanganyikan African National Union won all but one seat, Tanganyika therefore entered upon independence as a defacto one-party state. This remarkable result was due as much to the outstanding leadership of Julius Nyerere as to the unifying influence of a common cause. Soon after independence the opinion gained ground t hat the monopoly of power should be retained by TANU and should be confirmed in law by the independence constitution.

The origins of this opinion were diverse. The role of TANU as the undisputed leader in the campaign leading up to independence and its spectacular recognition in the polls encouraged the opinion that TANU alone possessed the ability to govern. A desire to create a system of Government appropriate to African conditions and experience was no doubt stimulated by recollections of the tribal baraza and the habits of mind that went with it. And at a more self-interested level it was known that certain leaders having borne the heat of the day during the independence campaign, saw the one party state as a ready means of perpetuating their own authority – wrongly, as later experience showed.

Beneath these immediate concerns lay an instinctive fear of organised dissension. Et is easy for us in our island kingdom to overlook the mature sense of nationhood that has emerged from centuries of our history and the wide areas of consensus which have furnished us with the conditions essential for two-party government. “It is evident” wrote A.J.Balfour, “that our whole political machinery presupposes a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker; and so sure of their own moderation that they are not dangerously disturbed by the din of political conflict.”

Tanzania can make no such assumptions. As the history of Nigeria, Uganda and even Kenya has shown, centrifugal tendencies can be strong and dangerous. Tanganyika was the creation, not of historical evolution but of the ambitions of the European powers in the nineteenth century. For many years the only cohesion was that imposed by an alien administration. Even as the colonial period drew to a close, local and tribal loyalties often exerted a more dominant influence than the national interest. If Tanzania was to become something more than a geographical creation, positive steps were required to arouse a sense of common destiny. It was the judgement of Tanzania’s leaders that a political system based on the interaction of party rivalries could undermine these efforts and endanger the unity of the infant state.
The decision to turn Tanganyika into a one-party state was made by the National Executive Committee of the Party and on the 14th January 1963 this decision was announced by President Nyerere. The President made known at the same time that he had been empowered by the National Executive Committee to appoint a Presidential Commission to consider the changes of the constitutions of the Republic and of the Party that might be necessary to give effect to this decision. The Commission was appointed on 28th January 1964 and reported on 22nd March 1965. There were 13 members, two of whom were prominent Europeans and one Asian. The Commission invited written evidence and also took verbal evidence throughout the country. Its deliberations were guided by the terms of two important memoranda drawn up by President Nyerere and as a result the final report was deeply influenced by President Nyerere’s approach to the whole subject, an approach which, as it turned out, received widespread support during the course of the verbal evidence.

The Commission, following the President’s view, laid finally at rest the view that the party should be a small, elite leadership group and insisted that it should be a mass organisation open to every citizen of Tanzania. This decision finally established the character of TANU as constituting a national movement; indeed the word ‘party’, with its sectional implications, was no longer an appropriate description and the resulting pattern of Government, as Professor Pratt has suggested, “was in many ways closer to a no party system than to a one party system.” It is clear from the evidence that this concept fully reflected the mood of the people, who showed no interest at all in entrenching an ideologically exclusive elite, but saw the necessity for a single national movement to emphasize and safeguard the unity of the nation.

In his guidelines to the Commission the President laid down a number of ethical principles, which later were incorporated in the constitution of TANU and survive in substantial measure in the present constitution of the Party (CCM). They are also reflected in the Union Constitution as amended in 1985, where Part 3 endows certain important rights and duties with the force of law. The principles listed by the President relate to the fundamental equality of all human beings and their right to dignity and respect; the right to take part in government at all levels; the right of freedom of expression and movement, of religious belief and of association within the law, subject only to safeguarding the freedom of others to enjoy these benefits; the right of protection of person and property under the law and of freedom from arbitrary arrest, subject to a duty to uphold the law; the right to receive a just return for work by hand or brain; common ownership of natural resources; the responsibility of the state to intervene actively in the economic life of the nation in order to secure the wellbeing of all citizens, prevent exploitation and such personal accumulation of wealth as is inconsistent with a classless society; and to fight against colonialism and work for African unity and international co-operation.

In proposing these guiding principles the President foresaw some of the abuses that might pass unchallenged in a single party system. The Commission considered these dangers with the utmost seriousness and as one result of their deliberations a permanent Commission of Enquiry was established to perform the functions of an ombudsman and enquire into allegations of the abuse of power. The reports of the Commission show that- this function has been performed with considerable effect. The basic rights safeguarded in Part 2 of the constitution of TANU as amended also reflected the President’s proposals and acquired a certain legal status when the Party constitution was incorporated as a schedule to the Interim Constitution of the United Republic of 1965. In the Interim Constitution it was stated that ‘all political activity in Tanzania, other than that of the organs of state of the United Republic…shall be conducted by or under the auspices of the Party’. This position was reaffirmed in slightly different terms in the Constitution of 1985, in which the leadership role of the Party was also extended to the conduct of parastatal organisations. In practice, this has meant party responsibility for general policy and for monitoring the implementation of policy. The Party is not itself an executive organ of government, but in the course of formulating policy it has access to the personnel and the documentary resources of the Government departments involved.

Subject to such guidance, the executive arm of Government was free to govern as best it could and the National Assembly to legislate, to vote money and to monitor the performance of Government. In practice the National Assembly has been slow to exercise its powers of criticism, though there have in recent years been signs of greater liveliness and self-confidence. There have been a number of instances where Government proposals have been modified or rejected and one which led to the dismissal of a Minister and senior officials. The important consideration here is that protest is not organised on a Party basis and it is this aspect that makes the proceedings of the National Assembly so unfamiliar and puzzling. It is like Parliament without the whips.

The Tanzanian system is called a ‘one-party democracy’ and some may see this title as a contradiction in terms. In fact, however, the efforts made under the system to represent popular will are not negligible. Despite the limitation of candidature to two persons approved by the Party in each constituency, successive elections to the National Assembly have brought about widespread changes in membership, including the unseating of Ministers, and no leader can lay permanent claim to a position of leadership. The choice of President allows only for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote for a single candidate chosen by the Executive Committee of the Party and confirmed at a Party National Conference. But at least the right to vote ‘no’ has been freely exercised. In each national election hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians have voted against Nyerere (and in 1985 Mwinyi), whilst in 1985 no less than 41% of Zanzibari voters voted against the choice of Abdul Wakil as their President. While the tendency towards the formation of a ruling class is undeniable, it is not inviolable and there is constitutional provision which, it is hoped, will continue to be effective in safeguarding peaceful change.

Criticism of the one party system has recently come from no less a person than the Chairman of CCM himself, Julius Nyerere. In the course of his peregrinations around Tanzania he has found in party circles much slackness and indifference. With characteristic frankness he has admitted that in a multi- party system competition between p arties keeps them on their toes. This was not a suggestion that Tanzania should abandon its one-party system, but that alternative methods must be found to stimulate and sustain political awareness and activity. Nyerere has long been conscious of this problem and said so in a speech in 1974: now he is face to face with it in practice. Since the Party is predominant in matters of general policy, in the election of a President and in the choice of candidates for the National Assembly, the comment is important.

The criticism has also been expressed that the one party system as operated in Tanzania may have had the effect of muting legitimate dissent. There is danger here of passing judgement on the basis of British experience, overlooking the absence of a tradition of informed discussion, the very recent achievement of widespread basic literacy and the extreme scarcity of newsprint. Yet it is reasonable to wonder how far justifiable proposals for reform can accumulate support without the help of some kind of party machinery. It is noticeable that the important reform culminating in the Preventive Detention (Amendment) Act of 1984 seems to have been triggered, or at least promoted, by a symposium at the Faculty of Law in 1982, that is, outside the Party system. This is not the same thing as the formation of an alternative party, but it does suggest that there may be limits to the ability of a one-party system to give hospitality to the serious advocacy of reform. If so, then changes will ultimately ensue. Under the one-party system the voice of the Party has great significance and therefore it is the modulation of that voice which is decisively important. The present highly indirect system of election to the National Executive Committee may turn out to be the point at which reform is most needed.

J. Roger Carter

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