WHEN the National Chairman of the Opposition Civic United Front (CUF), Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, stood up in the debating chamber of the Constituent Assembly (CA) last Wednesday, many paid attention, both inside and outside the House.
The professor is leader of a party that is a partner in Zanzibar’s coalition government. He is also a renowned economist and academician. So he is a person to reckon with — in his own right.
But, even more important, he is a member of the Coalition of a People-Centred Constitution, better known as Umoja wa Katiba ya Wananchi (Ukawa).
Indeed, a few weeks back the CA chairman, Mr Samuel Sitta, had offered Prof Lipumba a slot on the CA’s Steering Committee ostensibly because he was the Ukawa chairman, only for the don to decline the offer, pointing out that the Ukawa leader was in fact Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) National Chairman, Mr Freeman Mbowe.
So, everyone was eager to hear what he had to say, particularly because the CA was then debating Chapters 1 and 6 of the draft constitution which had been submitted by the Constitutional Review Commission (or better known as the Warioba Commission).
Ukawa, which is formed by the main opposition parties and some CA members from independent groups, is adamant that the draft should not be tampered with – only fine-tuned at best, contrary to the views of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which believes that the draft constitution is precisely what it is called – merely a draft to be edited with abandon by the constitutionmaking body.
Ukawa strongly advocates formation of a three-tier government Union, as proposed by the draft, a proposal which CCM members have vowed to shoot down. Chapters 1 and 6 dwell on that crucial issue.
When Prof Lipumba started speaking it was apparent that he was a bit agitated. And then he delved into a talk not at all relevant to the two chapters; rather, he complained bitterly about how CCM members were bent on disrupting the constitutionmaking process.
He also said that Ukawa members were being vilified in and outside the House by the CCM die-hards to an extent that they could not take it anymore. With that he and the other Ukawa members and sympathizers trooped out of the House.
It was really sort of an anti-climax of what he was expected to say. Debate on the two chapters is of course ongoing, but interest in it has drastically declined – what with the absence of firebrand personalities such as Mr Tundu Lissu and Rev Christopher Mtikila and on the flip side, cool-headed arguments by the prof himself, Mr Mbowe and a few other colleagues.
The avowed objective of Ukawa’s walk-out is to bring the whole constitution-making process to a standstill with the hope that, in their absence, the figures won’t add up in securing the mandatory two-thirds majority from both sides of the Union when deciding key issues.
This stance is of course debatable because it might indeed backfire on them. However, the point here is that the constitution will in the end be written by the CA. There is no way that it can be formulated outside the CA process, however, much public support one may try to drum up.
It is, therefore, in their interest to go back to the CA debating chamber to make their views heard, considered and hopefully, taken on board.
They may indeed be hopelessly outnumbered by the CCM members and their allies, but there have been instances in the recent past when minority views have carried the day, one of which was amendment to the Constitutional Review Act.
Constitution-making, where there is a multitude of divergent views and interests, is all about give-and-take – horse-trading. It is about bridge-making, not breaking and canvassing.
This cannot be achieved when Ukawa is out of the House, hence the urgent need for them to go back to the House and argue their case with their CA colleagues. CA Chairman, Mr Sitta, should double his efforts to woo Ukawa back to the debating chamber.
And when he is at it, he should also endeavour to talk to CA members out of making disparaging remarks about Ukawa and the Warioba Commission.
He has just been giving the members too much leeway in hurling insults at individual members of Ukawa and the Commission. In the bottom line, if Ukawa really wants to have its views incorporated in the new constitution, it should go back to the House now.