Unwritten rules that guided TZ’s peaceful transition

Friday, April 9th, 2021 00:59 |
The late Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Photo/File

Harrison Mwilima  

When Tanzania announced the death of President John Pombe Magufuli on March 17, the nation went into a 21-day mourning.

That period was for the country to reflect on Magufuli’s legacy and observe how the government would proceed with this first-time experience of a president dying while in office.

Such an unexpected transition can be fertile ground for chaos. In some African countries, this would be an opportunity for the army to launch a coup and suspend the constitution.

It happened in Guinea after President Lansana Conte died in 2008 and in Togo after Gnassingbe Eyadama passed away in 2005.

Since most African countries’ boundaries were created through colonial processes, thus ending up with diverse ethnic groups, cultures, religions and languages being put together into a single nation, stakes can be high in cases of power vacuum.

Tanzania is a diverse country with almost 130 ethnic groups and languages. However, the mourning and the transition of power has happened peacefully.

The new government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan is running the country smoothly.

Given the developments, definitely there are lessons other African countries can learn.

Tanzania’s constitution states that when a president dies while in office, the vice would take over and finish the term.

Tanzania is a union between its mainland (formerly known as Tanganyika) and Zanzibar island.

The constitution further states that if the president comes from the mainland, the deputy should come from Zanzibar and vice versa. Tanzania strictly followed the guidelines.

Suluhu comes from Zanzibar. But before she got the top job, she deputised President Magufuli.

In the same vein, Hassan also appointed a vice from Tanzania’s mainland.

The fact that rules and regulations define where the president and the vice should come from helped the country cope with the changes and further strengthened the Tanzanian union.

For Zanzibarians, it became an opportunity to provide a union president, who also happened to be a woman.

The constitution aside, there are unwritten rules that are part and parcel of the country’s political culture.

In this context, religion has also become an unwritten criterion on who would govern the country.

Since independence, Tanzania has been led by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents.

The population is approximately evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Thus, if the president is Christian, then the vice would be Muslim and vice versa.

Magufuli was a Christian and Suluhu a Muslim. For the nation’s unity of holding the two religions together, this has been a powerful tool for a peaceful transition of power.

Tanzania’s situation shows while it is essential to have written rules via the Constitution, it is also vital to establish unwritten rules that become part of political cultures the country would have to observe.

Given the diversity of Tanzania’s society, the president and the Cabinet would seek to ensure the inclusion of different religions and ethnic backgrounds.

From a rational point of view, one may argue that governments should select people based on merit.

That is true for Tanzania, too. However, given the nation’s diversity, other criteria such as religion and ethnic background would matter.

The benefits of including written and unwritten rules have provided a solid ground in Tanzania’s peaceful transition of power. — The writer is DW Kiswahili correspondent in Berlin

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