Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan and the challenges ahead

Tanzania got its first female president following the death of John Pombe Magufuli, who died at the age of 61, due to a heart condition.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan was the country’s vice president and has been described as someone that may cut a different leadership figure than her predecessor. She was born in Zanzibar on January 27, 1960, and is considered an outspoken leader and veteran politician.

She holds university qualifications from Tanzania, Britain and the United States. The mother of four has spoken publicly to encourage Tanzanian women and girls to pursue their dreams.

President Suluhu Hassan worked as a clerk officer in a government office at 17 after graduating from high school with a very poor result. She rose through the ranks to become a development officer in the Zanzibar government by 1988.

In the 1990s, she worked as a project manager for the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) before getting an appointment as executive director of a union body governing non-governmental organisations in Zanzibar.

Hassan was nominated by her party, CCM to a special seat in Zanzibar’s House of Representatives. Then, she served as a two-term local government minister, and in 2010, she got elected to the National Assembly on mainland Tanzania.

Unexpectedly in March 2021, she was thrust from the role of vice president to become Tanzania’s first female president following President John Magufuli’s sudden death.

It was a history made on Friday 19th March 2021 when she took an oath of office to serve as the next president of Tanzanian at a ceremony in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.

“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” she said in her speech during the inauguration, adding that “Today I have taken an oath different from the rest that I have taken in my career. Those were taken in happiness. Today I took the highest oath of office in mourning.”

According to Tanzania’s constitution, Samiat Hassan will remain the president for the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which expires in 2025.

Tanzania Under Magufuli

The late Magufuli was elected as the president in October 2015 following his intense promise of stamping out corruption in the country, and after he was sworn in, he hailed to be the kind of leader Tanzania needed.

He was nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his initiatives to build roads and was as well commended for his anti-corruption policies and his distinct disciplinary steps against wasting governmental funds.

For example in November 2015, he ordered the cancellation of the country’s Independence Day celebrations and all foreign trips for public servants, for the first time in 54 years.

His administration also showed a strong intolerance for the chronic absenteeism in the country’s civil service by identifying and firing thousands of so-called “ghost workers” from the government payroll.

These approaches gave him great commendations and recommendations, as his results-oriented actions were poised as what the African continent needed to deal with its governance problems.

However, due to his other divisive policies surrounding press freedom, political expression, and free speech, his administration was later criticized, and his legacy elicited mixed reactions from both within and outside the government.

Magufuli’s election victory late last year was also marred by controversy, with foreign observers, including the US embassy, raising questions about the results’ legitimacy and treatment of the opposition in the run-up to the elections.

Challenges ahead

The nation’s first female chief, who hails from Zanzibar’s semi-autonomous archipelago, faces various challenges. Apart from the challenges posed by Magafuli’s authoritarian tendencies, some reports indicate that she has little political resources of her own and faces an uphill struggle in stamping her authority over a fractured ruling party and an anxious government.

President Suluhu Hassan’s treatment of Covid-19 will also influence thoughts on her time in office, especially as her predecessor did not believe in people staying at home when Covid-19 arrived in Tanzania. Instead, he wished for them to pray in the churches and mosques.

Also, the late Magufuli dramatically pursued an interventionist economic policy agenda throughout his lifetime, although some economists believe his political style has had unintended consequences for Tanzania’s economy. Hundreds of significant companies have shut down or decreased their activities. Economic growth has slowed, unemployment has risen, and economic hardships have increased.

Samiah’s international experience can provide her with the perspective needed to address the nation’s political infighting, diplomatic blunders, and “the need to bury differences and display unity as a nation,” according to her inaugural address on March 19, 2021.

Her actions since her inauguration have also proved that her forthrightness and sanity may be crucial in pushing the country forward. Although she will also need to act quickly to shift the country’s stance on COVID-19 and reach out to the opposition and other stakeholders in order to foster an inclusive national dialogue.

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