It could have been called the Tale of Nineteen Rebellious Women and a Conniving Speaker of Parliament. Or it could have been termed the Case of a Speaker who Babysat Nineteen Women but lost his Home. Or the Hapless Speaker and His Illicit Nineteen Women.
Many more humorous epithets can be coined to describe what is essentially a case of extreme forms of hypocrisy afflicting the politics of Tanzania and the painful twists and turns this country has to go through because of a seriously sick political dispensation.
The case in itself is so simple it deserves to be seen as a no-brainer.
The brief history is as follows: Some 30 years ago, this country was being shoehorned into what was called “multiparty politics” and patches had to be introduced into the existing constitution in a hasty way, just so the elections in 1995 could be held under the new arrangement allowing for competitive politics.
I have always argued since then that the ruling political elites in this country, essentially housed in the ruling party that is still in place today, were not really desirous of an established and working political pluralism. Rather, they longed for a formal arrangement that would have little substantial content to ensure real competition.
So, one of the things that were enshrined in the constitution was — and it still is — the requirement that, in order to be elected to the governance councils such as parliament and district councils, one had to be a member of a political party.
Some of us argued ourselves hoarse because we saw this as an aberration, as it was taking away the freedom of a citizen to partake in the political processes of the country without having to surrender to the constraints of a political party, but the usual non-thinking of our rulers prevailed, so we have it in our constitution.
But, come 2020 and the desire of John Magufuli to pave his way toward establishing a life presidency by eliminating such impediments as term limits, electoral rigging took on a new meaning in that it was so systematic and overwhelming that the opposition parties were simply wiped off the face of the political landscape, and the one-party system was virtually re-established.
But there was a twist. Although the main opposition party Chadema lost all its seats, its women candidates were somehow sworn into parliament under the ruse that they had been elected!
Although the number of women candidates is calculated on the basis of the numbers garnered in constituency votes, the Chadema women could sit in parliament although Chadema’s constituency electoral tally was next to zero. This alchemy was so blatant that many people were left speechless, but the Speaker held on to his women and swore them in outside parliament, as is the practice.
So, when Chadema said it had no women parliamentarians, the Speaker was adamant that these 19 women were indeed members of parliament, and he, the Speaker, would protect them.
If ridicule killed, we would all be living in a cemetery. We were now witnessing a Speaker from the ruling party fighting tooth and nail to have the opposition women represented in parliament when the opposition did not want to be represented! Bizarre just doesn’t begin to describe the debilitating logic of these people.
This is not black magic, although we have earned ourselves the sad reputation of being a hopelessly superstitious lot. The calculation was simple, and it was to pack parliament with unquestioning, fake parliamentarians who would rubberstamp what the Speaker and his gang wanted to do, that is “force” Magufuli to accept the “people’s plea” for him to continue in office despite term limits.
Magufuli’s machinations fell through only because the plotters in this saga did not reckon with divine intervention, and when the man succumbed to whatever it was that ailed him, his henchmen were now stuck with women they did not know how to use, and their party did not want!
So, this past week, the women tried an appeal with the party, ostensibly to seek a pardon. They were resoundingly rejected and are now officially voted out of the party.
This could prove to be the end of several political careers that had shown earlier promise in the way they took and articulated positions concerning many burning national issues.
It is hard to fathom, but it must be surmised that there was a certain desire to have one’s cake and eat it.
The Speaker who promised to defend this group could not defend his own seat, and there is now a perceptible change in tone from the presidency suggesting there is a willingness to engage in dialogue between President Samia and Chadema’s Freeman Mbowe.
To her credit, Samia seems to have taken the decision to veer sharply from her predecessor’s visceral antipathy to political competition and allow for the much larger political space than Magufuli would have ever suffered.
All this augurs ill for the 19 women who will now be wandering the political plains looking for a new home.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]