The elections for the presidency and the National Assembly in Tanzania held on 26th. October, 1980, raise once again the question of the efficacy of representative democracy as practised in that country. It is natural for us to judge the political institutions of another country by comparison with the arrangements familiar to us and to look upon the Mother of Parliaments as an example to be followed elsewhere. We do not readily appreciate how peculiar are the historic origins and the circumstances of national temperament on which our constitutional practices rely. As Lord Balfour has observed, “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 never-ending din of political conflict.” (1) “Constitutions are easily copied”, he added, “temperaments are not; and if it should happen that the borrowed constitution and the native temperament fail to correspond, the misfit may have serious results.”

This danger was clearly perceived by the founding fathers of independent Tanganyika. There was little or nothing in the historical experience of the people to correspond with the political traditions of Britain. It was only three years before independence that the first elected members took their seats in the Legislative Council. On the day of independence, Tanganyika inherited a parliamentary structure, which indeed followed many of the formal practices of the House of Commons, but which lacked the psychological basis upon which its successful operation depended. As the Presidential Commission appointed to advise on a one-party constitution reported, “the process of government in the United Kingdom provides a striking example of the force of a national ethic in controlling the exercise of political power … In other words, there is a consensus between the people and their leaders about how the process of government should be carried on.”(2) In Tanganyika, on the other hand, the Commission recognised that “we do not have behind us a long tradition of constitutional government and positive steps are needed to entrench the national ethic in the moral imagination of the people.”

Tanganyika was not an island, but a vast territory carved by the colonisers out of the continent of Africa, with little natural geographical unity and until recent times only limited communication between the inhabitants of its separate parts. Nationhood, an idea familiar to the English since the war with Spain in the 16th. century, was an entirely novel sentiment to the peoples of Tanganyika. Nation building became, indeed, one of the first and most important preoccupations of the new leaders.

In the years before independence, the diverse peoples of this great country were united for the first time at the hands of TANU by a common longing for liberation from colonial rule, but after independence this unifying influence fell away and new means had to be found for sustaining and entrenching the unity produced during the liberation struggle.

The search for institutional means of generating a sense of national unity deeply influenced the constitutional arrangements expressed in the Interim Constitution of Tanzania of 1965.(3) The outstanding features of this constitution were the declaration in section 3(1) that “there shall be one political party in Tanzania” and the relationship that emerged between that single Party (4) on the one hand and the National Assembly on the other. The significance of these features of the Tanzanian constitution are not well understood and are commonly stigmatised as undemocratic. It is therefore important to look closely at the reasons for the decision to abandon the institutions of multi-party democracy.

It is first of all necessary to understand the fear of irresponsible factionalism in many of the post-colonial countries of Africa. That this fear was often justified has been shown by the dismal breakdown of many democratic constitutions and the imposition of an appearance of unity by military dictators. Even in Kenya, which has been spared the ordeal of a military coup d’etat, the strength of centrifugal forces eventually led to the assumption by the ruling party, KANU, of a monopoly in Parliament. President Nyerere believed that “the existence of really fundamental differences within any society pos5s a ‘civil war’ situation and has often led to bloody revolution.” (5) The reconciliation of fundamental divisions was believed to depend on the conscious creation of a national ethic and its vigorous propagation. Such was President Kaunda’s ‘humanism’ as enshrined in the preamble to Zambia’s one-party constitution of 1964, such also President Obote’s ‘common man’s charter’. The Presidential Commission, as we have seen, appealed to similar unifying influences in its call for a national ethic, “which should be included in the new constitution in the form of a preamble. Thereafter, everything possible should be done to win for these principles a strong commitment from the citizens of the United Republic.”(6) The efficacy of these various credal statements in creating a moral consensus will be judged variously in the light of experience. Tanzania had the advantage of a statement of national aims that was much more clearly focussed than those of its neighbours on the realities of the national life and that produced effects that soon became clearly visible, particularly in the rural areas. Over the propagation of these ideas and their progressive implementation in the life of Tanzania the party of liberation, TANU, was to stand guardian.

It was firmly believed, not only in Tanzania, that the aim of creating a body of common beliefs was incompatible with a multi-party system of government. A multi-party system, such as we take for granted as an essential ingredient of democracy, was seen to be not only a distraction from the efforts to create national unity, but as a direct cause for disunity by the encouragement of ‘adversary politics’ and the exaggeration of differences for political purposes.

The importance of constitutional measures aimed at strengthening a national sense of unity received strong support in Tanganyika from the political situation that existed just before and just after independence. In the elections of 1958-59, all the candidates elected to the Legislative Council were either TANU candidates, or supported by TANU. In the 1960 elections, only a single elected member was neither a member of TANU, nor supported by TANU. In the two years following independence, 350 out of 356 candidates elected to urban local authorities belonged to TANU. At the time of the Presidential Commission, therefore,(7) mainland Tanzania was already de facto virtually a one-party state. One unfortunate effect of the existing constitution based on a multi-party principle was that the vast majority of candidates were returned unopposed. As a result, the party system had hitherto failed to provide the electorate with electoral experience, or with the political alternatives that it was designed to offer.

In the one-party state that came into existence with the adoption of the Interim Constitution,(8) the choice before the electorate was no longer one of party, but one of person. In the United Kingdom, the requirement of a deposit is intended to limit the number of candidates to those having a chance of election, but such devices were considered inappropriate to a one-party system. Following the advice of the Presidential Commission, therefore, the Constitution provided for pre-selection by the Annual District Conference of the Party from among those nominated, a body which included three representatives of every village branch, ten of every urban branch and the chairman of every branch. The two candidates attracting the largest number of votes were then put forward, subject to endorsement by the National Executive Committee, as candidates for election to parliament.

Under the 1965 Constitution there were 107 constituency “members comprising 53% of the total membership. A further 15 were chosen by parliament from among candidates put forward by a variety of national organisations representing workers, co-operatives, women, youth and other interests; 20 members were the Regional Commissioners ex Officio; up to 32 were appointed by the President from among the members of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council; up to 20 were appointed by the President from among persons ordinarily resident in Zanzibar; and up to a further 10 members were in the President’s power of appointment. The disproportionate representation of Zanzibar and Pemba was the price that had to be paid to persuade Zanzibar to enter the political union with the mainland. But the result has been the removal from Zanzibar of the dominating influence of China and East Germany, or of any other external power that might seek a footing there in the future.

A study made of the activities of parliament in 1967 showed that 82% of the speeches other than those of ministers and junior ministers were made by constituency members, who also asked 96.5% of the questions and 86.3% of the supplementaries. It appeared, therefore, that the non-constituency members took relatively little active part in the proceedings. Only 35 national, nominated and ex officio members, other than ministers, out of a total in these categories of 97, made speeches during the year and only 25 asked questions or supplementaries. The performance of even the constituency members varied widely and “a mere dozen were constantly in the front line of parliamentary work, making a strenuous effort to keep themselves and their colleagues fully informed of government activities. (9)

In 1977 the Interim Constitution gave place to a substantive constitution. (10) The constituency members fell from 107 to 106 and the total complement of members rose to a maximum of 229 with the addition of the Vice-President ex officio and 25 members chosen by parliament to represent the Regional Development Committees, of which constituency members of parliament are full members. The numerical proportion of constituency members thus fell to 47%.

Both constitutions provided for a number of committees of parliament, namely, a finance and economic committee, a political affairs committee, a public accounts committee, a committee on development and social services, a standing orders committee and a general purposes committee. The impact of these committees on the work of parliament has not been fully assessed.

Parliament, that is, the President and the National Assembly, is entrusted by the constitution with the legislative power. An important function is the annual review of departmental estimates and the passage of the finance bill, an episode in the life of parliament that constitutes a general investigation of the activities of government, in the course of which ministers are called upon to explain and defend their execution of national policies. The broad lines of such policies are, however, laid down by the National Conference of the Party (CCM) and cannot be challenged in the National Assembly. But as all members of parliament are also members of the National Conference ex officio, they are able to participate in the formulation of policy in that forum.

One of the aims and objects of the Party is “to ensure that, by using the lawfully established forums, every citizen has the right to participate effectively in the national decision making process.”(11) Tanzanians are justified in pointing to many examples of the successful implementation of this right. Nevertheless, President Nyerere with characteristic frankness has recognised many imperfections and has not allowed complacency to stand in the way of reform. “The Party … is intended to be the people’s spokesman, the people’s method of organising themselves for voluntary cooperative activities and the people’s protection against the arrogance and possible tyranny of government machinery and personnel. How successful is CCM in fulfilling those stated objectives? We have a government consisting of CCM members. Is the Party really channelling the people’s view to that government as well as speaking for the government to the people? Do people really feel that the Party is their own instrument, which can be moved by them and used for their purposes? How close is the Party to the general masses of Tanzania?”(12). President Nyerere recognised that, without a vital CCM in close touch with the people, the present constitution would be in danger of delivering Government into the hands of the bureaucrats and the demagogues. He saw the possibility that the present widespread practice of combining in the same person governmental and party office might be leading to a neglect of the prime function of the Party as the voice of the people. This matter will be critically examined in the coming months.

Tanzania claims no finality in one-party democracy and the improvement of its institutional forms continues to receive attention in the light of the aims set out in the preamble to the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic and the constitution of CCM. Many of the decisions before government are becoming so complex and so alien to the daily experience of the people that government by the people as an ideal is increasingly difficult to realise. But that is a problem that is faced by all democracies.

J. Roger Carter

(1) The Earl of Balfour, from the introduction to the English Constitution by WaIter Bagehot: OUP, The World’s Classics, 1928.

(2) Report of the Presidential Commission on the Establishment of a Democratic One-Party state: Government Printer, Dar-es-Salaam, 1965.

(3) Law no. 43 of 1965

(4) or, strictly, the TANU party in Tanganyika and the Afro-Shirazi party in Zanzibar until the union of these two parties as the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) on 5th. February, 1977.

(5) Julius K. Nyerere, Democracy and the Party System: OUP, 1963.

(6) Presidential Commission, op.cit.

(7) op.cit. The Commission reported on 22nd. March, 1965

(8) Op.cit. The constitution of TANU, the one party, appeared as a schedule and thus the party acquired unique legal and national status.

(9) Helge KJekshus: Parliament in a One-Party State: from the Journal of Modern African Studies, vol.12, no. 1, March 1974: OUP

(10) Katiba ya Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania wa Mwaka 1977

(11) Constitution of Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), 1977, Article 1.

(12) Address to the university of Dar-es-Salaam during the 10th. anniversary celebrations, 29th. August, 1980.

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