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Good News Is No News. Or Is It?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 23, 2022 03:36

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Little has been said in international media lately about Tanzania. There have been no disasters, apart from the tourism industry suffering from COVID. But things have been going right in this African country since a female, Muslim President has taken control. Or has it?

When COVID-denying President John Mangufuli of Tanzania died (of COVID, it was whispered) many wondered who would succeed this flamboyant but dictatorial fundamentalist Christian, in this paternalistic society. And then Mama Samia stepped forward. She was sworn in on 19 March 2021, and will serve the balance of Magufuli's second five-year term.

Coming from the historic Sultanate of Zanzibar, fabled spice producer, mentioned by Sinbad the sailor, and now an autonomous region of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan was a compromise candidate as Vice-President. Tanzania's turbulent politics had seen attempts at secession of the prosperous and tourist-rich island group. But Mrs Hassan took immediate steps to unite the nation behind her. 

Zanzibar's Stone Town, little changed from the days of the Sultans. Photo: Esculapio, Wikipedia. CC BY 2.5

Suluhu Hassan was a breaker of ceilings in many ways. She went to school when many girls, especially Muslim girls, were expected to prepare to be home makers. She went on to obtain a Masters' Degree. Representing a constitution detached from mainstream Tanzania, she was considered an outsider by the ruling party. And she was a Muslim in a deeply fundamentalist Christian governing elite. One of her noted acts was when she, as Minister of Labor, Gender development and Children in Zanzibar, in 2005 overturned a ban on young mothers returning to school after giving birth. 

President of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan. Photo Gospel Kitaa, Wikipedia CC By-2.0

Soon after being sworn in, 'aunties' attacked her being called Mama Samia. "How dare she?" feminists and opponents of Government asked, despite it being a customary African title. Yet the nation remembered that, in 2017, she visited opposition leader Tundu Lissu in a hospital in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, after he had survived an assassination attempt, suspected to have been carried out on orders of President Mangufuli.

Her first task as President was to reverse the COVID-skeptic policies of the Mangufuli regime. Quarantine measures, mask mandates, a vaccination campaign bore the Mama Samia stamp. She set peace and security as her priorities and set out to restore a sense of national identity and unity. Despite economic constraints due to COVID, she managed to restart economic development using international bailout money and the fact that Tanzania did not enter a complete lockdown. Investment went, instead, into social services, health centers, housing for health workers in villages, and on education, decongesting classrooms.

She also has a relaxed approach to media freedom and seems to enjoy interacting with the press. And she vaunts the revival of the tourism sector due to investment and local tourism. 

Elephant and tourists watching each other in Ngorogoro crater. Photo George Lamson Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Nevertheless, not all has changed. Early in 2022 the Speaker of the Tanzanian Parliament resigned after attacking the President for her 'excessive' borrowing. 

African observers will be watching Tanzania to see if there will be a return to Presidential predominance, or development of democratic institutions. 

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on March 23, 2022 03:36

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After years of authoritarian rule, there are signs of change under the country's first female leader.

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