Tanzania’s constitutional review process should reach out to its minority groups

Under a Mango Tree in Kidomole, Southern Tanzania last Tuesday several hundred villagers and pastoralists assembled to witness a process unique in Tanzania’s history: For the first time they can have a say in their countries legal future through the Constitutional Review Commission, that is currently touring the nation to gather people’s thoughts for input into the new constitution that president Kikwete promised for April 2014.

On this day though all waiting was in vain. The government official never followed suit and everybody went back to their fields or cattle knowing they missed out on the chance to tell the government their grievances about land rights, farming and politics.

Despite reports of a generally smooth start, this episode sends a disappointing signal for the review process, especially after the fact that the current constitution is heavily criticized by civil society groups for its denial of fundamental rights and liberties and its lack of legitimacy as it was crafted without consultation of the majority of Tanzania’s citizens.

I argue that as per usual in Tanzania ideas designed on a high political level are generally positive and progressive, that the realities on ground are of a different nature however and that especially marginalized minorities, such as the Barbaig pastoralist tribe, which are by and large excluded from political and social participation.

The Barbaig (around  90 000 people in Tanzania today) have been wandering the plains of East Africa for the past 3000 years and largely maintained their nomadic lifestyle, always in pursuit of grazing fields and water. for their cattle Due to the lack of boarding schools few have received formal education and thus have little knowledge of Swahili, the country’s lingua franca.

Beyond that many Tanzanians are highly suspicious towards pastoralists. Politicians and the business elite want to put a halt to the pastoralists’ nomadism because the large amount of land required is perceived to hamper land based investments, such as mining and large scale agricultural projects. Grazing land is also rivaling the demand for farmland in a country where an exponentially growing population is creating a scarcity of fertile land. In a similar vein, subsistence famers fear for their crops, which are said to be damaged by the pastoralists’ cattle.

Deriving from Nyerere’s ideology Tanzania does not recognize the definition of ‘indigenous’ in its usual sense, but claims that all ethnic Tanzanians are regarded as indigenous to the country. On one hand this is commonly seen as the main cause for Tanzania’s Sonderweg in Africa as a peaceful nation void of ethnic tensions.

On the other hand the  Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (PINGO) attributes this lack of recognition and political representation as one of the causes of continuous infringement of their human rights and consistent land conflicts with the state.

Pastoralists are disproportionally affected by forced eviction and internal displacement in the name of conservation or development through government projects and private investors. On this account the Barbaig are very eager to bring their viewpoint to the table, or to the roadside rather, and debate with government officials, that are willing to listen.

As long as the political elite of the country cannot achieve this inclusive process Tanzania’s road to a new constitution will remain bumpy. The constitution and by extension the state will continue to appear disingenuous if presidential promises are not accompanied by a change in mindset and attitudes down to the regular district official and village leader to reach out to all members of society and enable true and fair participation for everyone – not only on a given Tuesday.

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