Community parliaments crucial in addressing socio-economic challenges

By Guardian Special Correspondent

The ability of the citizens of Tanzania to determine their own future and to govern themselves and address some of the critical challenges in their respective areas is commendable. The Father of the Nation and the First President of Tanzania Mwl Julius Kambarage Nyerere in early years of independence had a slogan that stated “Mjenga nchi ni mwananchi mwenyewe”, which literally means a country is built by a countryman.

This slogan is what TGNP Mtandao, a feminist organization with the vision of a transformed Tanzanian society characterized by gender equality, equity, empowered women, and social justice tries to promote over 50 years later.

Speaking to this paper recently in an exclusive interview during a seminar that brought together participants from community Knowledge centres from Mara, Mbeya, Dar es Salaam, and Morogoro, TGNP’s Programme officer mobilization and outreach Deogratias Temba said that in order to ensure citizens become responsible and accountable in solving some of the challenges and problems that are within their ability without waiting for the government to do for them, in 2017 TGNP Mtandao established “Bunge la Jamii”-Community Parliament where they had formed Knowledge  Centres.

For Temba, “Community Parliament is not a political oriented one; it is not formed by politicians, not affiliated to any political parties; but is a functional parliament. It is not a government organ in a given state; it is not a parliament that holds accountable, corrects and oversees the government. Adding:

A community parliament is a platform that brings together leaders and development key stakeholders from ward, village and street levels in participatory discussion, mainly looking into the proper ways on how to tackle challenges facing them and bring sustainable developments in their respective localities.”

The main objective of the community parliament is to give chances/opportunities to participants (parliamentarians) to break the silence and speak out against bad cultural customs and give education awareness to a given society on the impacts those customs and come out with solutions on how to address them.

Josephina Bhoke Mong’awi one of the participants from Nyakonga Knowledge  Centre, Tarime Rural in Mara Region, told this paper during that meeting that, through their Community Parliament they have helped many women in their areas and in the neighbourhood to know their civil and social rights and where to get them.

She further detailed that in the first instance she didn’t know the harm caused by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). “Unlike the one who hasn’t undergone FGM, a girl who has undergone FGM gets more complications at the time of delivering and bleeds profusely,” she reveals.

So, in order to end this critical challenge among the Kurya tribe, they established a community parliament that brought together leaders and elders of clans, local leaders and villagers to discuss the effect and harm of continuing practicing FGM.

“Thus, through the different education awareness campaigns on the impacts of FGM, most women and men and their youth from the Kurya clans, have stopped practicing FGM among them.

Again through their community parliament and the centre’s initiatives, women who have lost their husbands are given power to own properties, and inherit land.

“We have been successful in these areas. Many of the Kurya people have stopped sending their girls for FGM cultural practices. And the centre has also reconciled broken marriages and helped to end child marriage and marriage between women-commonly known as ‘Nyumba Ntobu’.

Through their community parliament they were able to rescue around 201 girls of the 316 girls who were to undergo FGM in 2016. Further, they also resolved the critical long standing conflict between the citizens surrounding the mining site and the Acacia Mining Company. In this conflict residents were compensated their properties.

She further explained that it was hard for some family members to agree not to continue practicing FGM by insisting that it was their cultural custom from time immemorial. But through their knowledge centre, community parliament, religious leaders, teachers and village assembly, most people have changed their mindset on continuing with the practice.

For his part, Secretary of Knowledge Centres networks of Ukenyenge Ward, Kishapu District, Shinyanga Region, Peter Nestory commended TGNP Mtandao for coming up with the idea of establishing Community Parliament in their area because it has awaken them from asleep.

Through the community parliament “We were able to solve some of the burning issues faced us, like increasing the number of toilet holes at our Bulimba Primary school, from one hole to twelve holes-serving 705 pupils,” he explained.

Furthermore, the community parliament and the knowledge centre in closely collaboration with the local government leaders, though have been working voluntarily, but have managed to reduce the degree of early pregnancies and child marriages among girls after formulating bylaws.

“Community Parliament is a major solution for everything, especially for communities that are located in the peripheral areas of the country. It makes members in the community to know their responsibilities and implement them without depending on the central government,” he noted.

Therefore, he has urged TGNP Mtandao to establish as many knowledge centres as possible across the country because they will be like an eye opener the citizens in those areas to know their rights, how to seek them and how to be responsible.