Decoding Union Strains: How Zanzibar’s Presidency Shapes Tanzanian Politics

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While some senior opposition figures have raised concerns about the union structure, the real issue lies in the distribution of presidential power when the president hails from Zanzibar. This has become a contentious point, revealing that the framers of the constitution did not anticipate a Zanzibari president, except in the unfortunate event of a Mainlander president’s death.

This kind of situation has raised concerns among many people on the mainland, particularly when policy decisions are being made on major economic means to benefit non-Mainlanders. This article will trace the constitutional imperatives that empower the union president with total authority in the Mainland, despite not necessarily being a Mainlander, and propose remedial measures.

The Constitution Was Revisited

The first part of the second chapter of the constitution says the union government will have all the power in union matters and, in addition, all the power over the mainland. This has become a source of friction because Mainlanders appear to have been disadvantaged when a Zanzibari is the union president. It is a lopsided constitution. Zanzibar’s internal affairs are not union matters, but in Tanganyika, all governance matters fall into union matters.

This why a group of G-55 Tanganyika parliamentarians advocated from three governments that will curtail a Zanzibari president from having a major say over how Tanganyika wealth is governed.

The spirit and letter of the G-55 were captured in the last constitutional debate, aspirations, and legislative efforts. Still, the day’s politics ensured that such a ubiquitous dedication saw no light.

Arguments Against Three Governments

The main argument against having three governments within the union structure that will ensure no non-Tanganyikan can control the wealth of Tanganyikans is cost. The protagonists of two governments within the union structure vehemently argue and rest their case, stating that we cannot afford a third government that will impose more burden on the taxpayers.

Read Related: Mainland Opposition Blames Zanzibaris for National Woes, Union Structure Debated

That position holds water when we take a comparative study of devolution in Kenya, which has been raising government expenses and waste to an unbearable level. The hikes in taxes in Kenya reflect the challenges of adding more governments than they already have without bringing service to the people.

The second point of opposition against an additional government is grandstanding or what others dub a constitutional crisis waiting to happen. What is seen in the third government is the “Yeltsin” factor. Boris Yeltsin was the president of the Russian state, but since Russia was the largest one in the Soviet Union was able to dissolve the union singlehandedly!

This is why during the acrimonious engagement with the G-55, the late first president, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, remarked whether G-55 had already earmarked who among themselves would be Boris Yeltsin. Essentially, by implication, whoever is the president of Tanganyika would be a de-facto president of the union.

The third consideration is clawback from a faster unification of the two governments. The proponents aver that having two governments is merely a stopgap to unification. Therefore, adding a third government will amplify our identity differences, making it even more arduous to melt our differences into a single government. Enduring the teething problems of the two governments is a price we must pay in order to secure a truly unitary government.

The fourth point of contention is blowing up disproportionately the powers of the president of Zanzibar. Calling Zanzibar a country within the union government acknowledges the facts as they prevail today. Zanzibar is just too tiny to metastasize the powers of the president. The whole country is smaller in size than an average district on the Mainland.

The last point is blurred boundaries. No sooner is a Tanganyikan government erected than we fumble to establish boundaries in the Indian Ocean. International law will not resolve the demarcation conflicts but will accentuate them. Under international law, we may find that there is no country called Zanzibar since the Mainland boundaries surpass all Islets defined and packaged as Zanzibar. Then what will we do? Negotiate or forcefully enforce virtual rights? The answers to that may determine a peaceful coexistence or armistice.

Copycats Seldom Learn

As much as mainland politicians claim bragging rights that the union was an internal innovation, the harsh truth is that we copied it from the UK. We never came up with our ideas, but we were presented with the UK union structure that we adopted wholesale without considering the historical differences between the two unions.

The UK government can have a PM from anywhere regardless of whether other union members have their governments. For example, Scotland, Ireland, and North Ireland have their governments and premiers, but this did not stop Tony Blair (PM 1997 – 2007) and Gordon Brown (PM 2007 – 2010) from being Premiers of the UK government.

Gordon Brown is Scottish, and Tony Brown was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Alec Douglas-Hume (PM from 1963-64) was a Scot, too – although an aristocratic one born in the exclusive Mayfair district of London.

His predecessor, Harold Macmillan (1957-63), was the grandson of a Scottish crofter. James Ramsay MacDonald (PM 1924, 1929- 35) was from Lossiemouth in Scotland.

Andrew Bonar Law (1923) was born in Rexton, New Brunswick, Canada, and David Lloyd George (PM from 1916 to 1923) was Welsh (although he was born just outside of Manchester to Welsh parents). Going back, the Duke of Wellington (PM 1828) was an Irish aristocrat born in Dublin, as was an even earlier PM, the Earl of Shelburne (1782/83).

Also, read Zanzibar’s Resource Exploration: Legal and Historical Complexities within Tanzania’s Union Government

In the case of the British Union, nobody is concerned about which part of the union the premier hails from but his or her policies. This is what is lacking in the current debate on the plight of our union.

Sixty years since the union was formed, we are still captives of cocoons made and clothed in us by colonial powers.

The Future Ahead

It is increasingly becoming clear that three governments will not solve the problems that are being raised today, which focus on a lack of transparency and accountability. Besides, raising taxes to create more jobs for a few Tanganyikans may be unpopular, just as “ugatuzi” in Kenya is no longer a buzzword. Taxpayers in Kenya feel cheated as the disproportionate tax burden is shouldered upon their weak heads.

The solution could be to elect our premier directly by the people of Tanganyika. This will insulate the Tanzanian president from picking a lame-duck premier who is incapable of questioning government policy when Tanganyikan affairs are at a crossroads.

Unlike the UK, our current premier is not directly elected, which weakens his leverage in protecting the interests of Tanganyika. But having a Tanganyikan president will create a constitutional crisis akin to Zaire after independence, pitting premier Patrice Lumumba and the then president Joseph Kasavubu.

Paradoxically, a Tanganyika premier was not directly elected to avoid the Lumumba – Kasavubu constitutional crisis with one exception: the governance institution was too weak to arraign either of them. The first government of Zaire, now DRC, collapsed, paving the way for military rule under Mobutu Seseko.

Our governance today is in much better shape than an inchoate government of Zaire that had just obtained flag independence from Brussels and was determined to undermine it in order to sustain colonial exploitation relationships. Our case has neither of those constitutional threats.

So, it is not committing an original sin to imagine whether a directly elected Premier for Tanganyika to replace the current one is a bright idea that is long overdue.

Strange but true, but a lasting solution to our union lies in dissolving colonial boundaries in the EAC. Once the EAC citizens have one citizenship, most of the identity frictions will vanish. Strangely, our political class are against that in order to keep their little dockets at the expense of everybody else.

Tanzania is uncomfortable with turning the EAC into a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, religious affiliations and aspirations. By reducing the EAC, Tanzanian politicians damage the very causes they hold dear to their hearts: one union government!

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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