It is generally agreed that the President of the United States is the most powerful person not only in the US but also in the world. Nevertheless, this does not stop the US president from flouting major constitutional rules.
Take for example, the fact that no US president is allowed to declare war without the approval of Congress. According to TIME magazine, the US Congress has declared war five times only. “Since 1787, presidents have put US military forces to war hundreds of times without authorisation. The most intense of these actions was the Korean War, to which President Truman sent some 1.8 million soldiers, sailors and airmen over a period of just three years—but he never sought or received a congressional declaration of war.”
Recently, US President Barack Obama launched “military action” in Libya without seeking Congressional approval. TIME reports that, as presidential aspirant, Senator Obama had stated that the US President did not have power to unilaterally order a military attack. When it comes to being commander in chief, presidents have a lot more in common with one another than with whatever their own party says when it is out of power, the author of the article concludes.
This reality applies not only to aspiring politicians in America but also those in Tanzania. I project the American experience only to reveal the challenges that come with holding the top political office in any given country.
I do this precisely because I have noted that proponents of reckless reduction of presidential powers—especially young people—do not take the trouble to compare what they propose with what happens elsewhere in the world.
In the US, a president has the right to invoke executive privileges “so as to preserve the confidentiality of information and docu ments in the face of legislative inquiries”. Executive privileges give the US executive branch the power to withhold certain internal discussions and documents from scrutiny by Congress, which is the equivalent of our Bunge. This constitutional privilege has been used 25 times by US presidents since 1980. I mention this because I want to stress how much power American presidents hold. However, despite its weaknesses, the presidential system functions fairly successfully in the US.
In Tanzania, we have the presidential system. The president heads the executive branch and has real, not titular, powers. He is directly responsible to the people.
The president holds enormous powers. He is the head of executive branch and commander in chief of the armed forces. He makes all major appointments, ranging from those of cabinet ministers to judges, heads of major state organs and corporations along with regional and district commissioners.
There have been proposals that the positions of regional and district commissioners be scrapped and their functions taken over by elected regional heads and district executive directors (DEDs). It is assumed that the DEDs are non-political and would facilitate a fairer election playground rather than DCs and RCs. The latter are said to be politicians belonging to the ruling party who are all-out to suppress the opposition.
The opposition has been steadily gaining ground in each successive general election in terms of garnering presidential and parliamentary votes. I do not buy their idea of abolishing the DCs and RCs posts because of the serious implications the move shall bring to both national stability and development.
Let us start with the idea of having elected regional commissioners. This entails extra election funding. Where will the money come from—the central government or from within the relevant regions? Who will shoulder that cost? Is it the ordinary Mwananchi who is already overburdened by the high cost of living? The central government is headed by the executive president, and if it is the one to fund the regional elections, how will the system work, taking into account that it is the piper who calls the tune?
Furthermore, whom shall the elected RC be answerable to? In Tanzania, we have only three branches of government authority: The Executive Branch (Presidency), Judiciary and Parliament. Most logically, the RC has to report to the president. Will the elected RCs be directly answerable to parliament? What is going to happen if the elected RC is directly responsible to those who elected him and not the president? How do you have national harmony in that setting? How do you plan national programs and who is answerable at local level?
The President of the United Republic is also commander in chief of the armed forces. He oversees national security and stability not only directly but also through delegation of powers to regional and district leaders. These combine that task with managing the implementation of national development policy at local level.
In the regions and districts, you have the regional police and security officers, and district police and security officers. Is it really politically wise to leave the people of those regions and districts solely under heads of coercive government organs without having somebody above them who has both political touch and authority, and who can moderate their action when it comes to implementing a legal but unpopular action? How can the president of the united republic successfully execute his duties if he has no political authority on the ground? Who will mobilise the people to implement the development agenda? In this article, we are discussing the presidency as an institution. We are treating the whole series of current and future presidents as transient figures—be they from the ruling or opposition parties. What is at stake is the future not of an individual president or political party but of a country known as Tanzania.
Back to the idea of elected regional commissioners while at district level you have the DED to head district operations. To whom shall this DED be answerable, given the fact that all local governments are mainly funded by the central government (and, by extension, the president)? Aren’t the DEDs being appointed by the central authority? Also, don’t the local governments also have their own chain of authority?
So what will happen when the elected RCs all over the country do not belong to the same party? How will the ruling party implement both its policy and development agenda? As for regions where poverty and ethnocentric demands overlap, shall we not provide a fertile ground for secession? In that case, can Tanzania remain one and the same? We seem to have a lot of verve for elected RC. Don’t we know that good orators are usually not good actors?
Tanzania as a state was built only 50 years ago. We are still struggling to construct a viable nation-state. By all accounts, we are still an infant state. Due to peace and tranquillity, we usually take it for granted that our statehood is now as solid as that of centuries-old European states, such that we can safely experiment with whatever forms of government after each brief interval.
Christopher Clapham, in his article entitled Rethinking African States that was published in the year 2003 by the African Security Review, writes: “This contrast between Africa and Europe is paradoxical. Europe is the homeland of the strong states, founded on nationalism and sustained by centuries of history. In Africa, on the other hand, states are weak and artificial, lacking internal coherence…dysfunctional and even collapsed.”
Clapham singles out Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania as countries that have sufficient experience of living together, not just within broadly accepted boundaries, but within the concept of national identity with which they are generally comfortable.
He predicts that these countries will settle into what might be described as normal states, capable of implementing stable formulae for their own domestic governance that can combine a measure of accountability and representation.
If we have reached that stage, why then do we have to start all over again by establishing a new government of elected regional bodies? We need to realise that in unitary states like Tanzania, “regional authorities are seldom elected bodies and their powers are usually very limited”. (Understanding the State: POLITICS, the University of South Africa, 2002).
In Turkey, provinces are headed by governors who are directly appointed by the central government. There no elected legislature at regional level. In Italy and France, there is no separation between central and regional government administration. It is a central government officer who coordinates the work of central and local government authorities.
It thus goes without saying that the idea of elected RCs is only feasible under a federal structure, the institution of which shall tear Tanzania apart. This is because we don’t have a sufficient number of communities that can define the regional states. Furthermore, we successfully did away with chieftainship. We are now reaping the fruits of tranquillity that resulted from that farsighted, bold decision. At times, I think we are so tired of our peace and stability that we are eager to join a large number of African countries that yearn for a taste of our harmony and solidarity.
Sue Onslow, head of the LSE IDEAS Africa Programme, wrote recently: “In the intervening 50 years (of independence), the promise of political independence and hopes for rapid economic development in Africa have been tarnished by cycles of political instability, episodes of growth and stagnation, as well as external intervention and violent conflict.”
See how we have escaped from that. The loyalties that we need to build in our country are those of patriotism and nationalism, not those of disguised ethnocentrism. We are calling for these changes at a time when the greater part of our youth have low patriotic commitment thanks to mistakes that we have made in our school curricula and attitude since we adopted the multi-party system.
We have been building political socialisation based on a unitary system of government for 50 years. We are already getting somewhere, as noted by Clapham and other political observers across the globe. We have to understand that political culture is handed down from one generation to another. I do not see why we should start pedalling backwards.
I do not intend to advocate the arbitrary use of presidential power. What I know is that we have separation of powers, which prevents the arbitrary use of power by a single person or institution. The Tanzanian Parliament is increasingly playing its role of putting the government back in line. Several years ago, parliamentary resolutions led to the resignation of the country’s prime minister and some ministers.
Just recently, the Executive Branch made a major cabinet shakeup in response to parliamentary pressure, which was initiated by a member of the opposition. Indeed, opposition MPs are playing an effective role in Parliament and have made several crucial interventions that were accommodated by the House in which they are the minority. Such a feat is rarely accomplished in Africa.
Some years back, the Government lost a major case when the High Court ruled in favour of allowing independent candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections. The Judiciary thus has the ability to exercise full independence, provided its members are bold and are persons of integrity.
Regardless of what followed, the court decision underlined an important precedent and affirmed its independence. The integrity of members of the Judiciary is another matter altogether. We, as a country, have embarked on a long journey. We are not there yet, but we are ahead of many in Africa in terms of building statehood. It is a hard road to travel and a long, long way to go.
Source: The Citizen