THE WOMEN’S ERA: SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN

By Evelyne Syombua

(issyombua@gmail.com)

Thumbnail Photo Courtesy of bbc.com

On Friday the 19th of March Tanzania joined WTO, some African countries, and America in making history for black and African women. On the 4th of November 2020, America made history by electing Khamala Harris, who was Biden’s running mate, as the first woman and first black woman vice president. On the 15th of February 2021, the WTO (World Trade Organization) made history by electing Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as their 17th Director-General. 

On Wednesday evening she was tasked with announcing the death of the late President  John Magufuli to Tanzanians and now Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan has taken his place as the country’s head of state.

The Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was on Friday sworn in at a ceremony in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam before a roomful of dignitaries as Tanzania’s first female president after the sudden death of John Magufuli.

“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” said Hassan. “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,” she said, after being sworn in at 10 am on Friday.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan Being Sworn In. Photo Courtesy of bbc.com

She announced 21 days of mourning for Magufuli and public holidays on March 22 and on March 25, the day the late president will be buried in her first public address as president.

“It is not the time to point fingers at each other but to hold hands and move forward to build the new Tanzania that President Magufuli aspired to,” she said, amid opposition claims about the cause of Magufuli’s death.

In 2015 she was elected as Tanzanian’s first female vice president as Magufuli’s running mate and last year she was re-elected along with him. His choice of her for a running mate in 2015 came as a surprise, leaping over several other more prominent politicians in the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, which has been in power in one form or another since independence in 1961. As the constitution states, she should serve out the rest of the five-year term as the President. 

She joins a shortlist of women on the continent to have run their countries and currently, she becomes Africa’s only current female national leader – the Ethiopian presidency is a largely ceremonial role.

She was first elected to a public office in 2000 in her native Zanzibar as a special seat member of the Zanzibar House of Representatives and appointed a minister. At the time, she was the only high-ranking female minister in the Cabinet.

 She eyed election to the National Assembly in 2010, after serving two terms, winning the vote by more than 80%. The former President Jakaya Kikwete appointed her as the minister of state for union affairs. In 2014 she came to national prominence as the vice-chairperson of the Constituent Assembly, created to draft a new constitution.  She earned her plaudits through her calm demeanor in managing occasional outbreaks of pandemonium and how she dealt with some of the more outspoken members.

The Tanzanian’s affectionately know her as Mama Samia – since in the Tanzanian culture that reflects the respect she is held in, rather than reducing her to a gendered role.

When she was serving as the minister of labour, gender development and children in Zanzibar in 2005, she overturned a ban on young mothers returning to school after giving birth. The late President Magufuli insisted that a similar ban be implemented on the mainland. It is not clear whether she opposed his stance in government.

Contrary to her predecessor, her leadership style is purportedly quite different from Magufuli’s. Samia Suluhu Hassan has been described as a much more diplomatic political figure. Among her colleagues she is known for following the correct procedures and calmly managing conflicts among MPs.

“She does have good negotiation skills,” said Sarungi. “I think the fact that she’s very calm and doesn’t often show emotions but is firm, as well as the fact that she’s got a sense of humor. And of course, that contrasts very sharply with the late president, Magufuli.”  

Sarungi warns against expecting too much from her this soon, “I think the expectations are huge,” she said. “Tanzanians are very eager to open up a new chapter after a very dark, controversial, and extremely divisive five-and-a-half years of John Magufuli.”

“But at the end of the day, she’s coming from a political party. The same party that gave us John Magufuli.”

For his hasty and having an intolerant approach towards policymaking the late president was dubbed “The Bulldozer”. The uncertainty of whether she will remain loyal to Magufuli’s controversial policies or push for change remains to be answered. The late President Magufuli drew criticism for banning pregnant girls from attending school and urging women to stop taking birth control pills.

Nonetheless, many Tanzanians still expressed approval and respect for the decisions Magufuli made while in office. Her first public address leaked a few clues on how she might approach her new role.

“It was too controversial in the sense that she talked about reconciliation and burying the differences,” said Sarungi. “This is a very flippant remark when there are serious issues  including abuses of human rights…These are issues that she needs to start grappling within a more meaningful way.”

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