Love, Dedication, and the Constitution of Tanzania
The following post was written by Patricia Jones, manager of UUSC’s Environmental Justice Program. She is currently coleading the UUSC-UUA Supporter Journey to Tanzania and Burundi.
The Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP) is hosting a UUSC-UUA delegation of supporters in Dar es Salaam this week. Participants will join TGNP in their work on the constitutional process in the country. Tanzania’s political parties passed a very controversial law in 2012 that sounded the starting bell for the country to adopt a new constitution by the end of 2014. You may think three years is enough time. TGNP and civil society do not.
Yesterday we met with the founding members of TGNP and learned about their groundbreaking programs to raise awareness, mobilize grassroots constituents to demand their rights, and change law and policy to make the rights of women and men more real. The current constitution was adopted in 1977 and amended during the years since, but it contradicts itself, especially concerning the equality of men and women. In Tanzania, women may not inherit property, and marriage age for girls is 14 and for boys is 18 — but the constitution provides that all Tanzanian children have the right to education to the fullest of their potential. These “gaps,” as the Tanzanians call them, are just some of the issues TGNP is working to change. They want to see the human rights of the people — including the right to water, to health, and to education — more clearly expressed.
But they first had to reform the law that guides the process. In Tanzania, the constitution, all the laws, and the court decisions are in English. English is taught in secondary school, so Tanzanians who complete primary school only (to age 14) do not learn English. TGNP and their coalition partners at the Civil Society Constitutional Forum (CSCF) worked to require that the constitutional process be conducted in Swahili, the language the vast majority of Tanzanians use in daily life.
TGNP and CSCF are conducting civic education on the constitutional process. However, that is another “gap,” as they point out. The law passed by both ruling and opposition parties limits and regulates civic education. TGNP and CSCF must apply to conduct civic education on the constitution, disclose their funding for the program, and have the content authorized by the Constitutional Review Commission. If they violate this process, they could be fined 5 million Tanzanian shillings or be jailed for 3 years. This while the political parties are openly passing out talking points during the “open forums,” the first step in the constitutional process.
During our delegation visit, we saw boxes of the current constitution in Swahili at the CSCF offices we visited. They had printed them and are now distributing them. TGNP and CSCF want the time table changed; they want to slow the process down so people can learn about their constitution and what is at stake, and then be able to form their own opinions. The parties want to have the constitution wrapped before the 2015 elections.
Who knows what other surprises are waiting in the wings. Possibly land reform that would give away large parts of Tanzania to major foreign farming firms? That would privatize water rights? Diana, the director of CSCF, assured us they will include the human right to water. She had been without water in her home for the past week.
The delegation was inspired by the dedication, insightful analysis, persistence, and what cofounding member Subari termed the “love” that they express through their work. I agree, Subari, it is one of the highest expressions of love to dedicate your time and heart to changing the highest law of the land, the constitution.