PRESIDENT SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN
Samia Suluhu Hassan became president of Tanzania on 19 March 2021 following the death of President John Magufuli. As the first woman to become president of Tanzania, and only the second woman currently serving as president in Africa, President Suluhu intends to lead in a firm, but diplomatic way. In a speech she said,”I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say.” This is in stark contrast to her predecessor, who was nicknamed “the bulldozer”. More importantly, she has been taking steps to backtrack on some of the late President Magufuli’s authoritarian policies; she is seen as restoring Tanzania’s democracy.
Suluhu was born in 1960 in the small fishing village of Makunduchi, Zanzibar at a time when it was still an independent Muslim sultanate. Her father was a school teacher and her mother was a housewife. She finished her secondary education in 1977 and began working in the Ministry of Planning and Development as a clerk. After completing a degree in public administration, she worked on a project funded by the World Food Programme. In 1994, she earned a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of Manchester in the UK.
In 2000, Suluhu began her political career by winning a seat in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. She was appointed Minister of Labour, Gender Development and Children and later served as Minister of Tourism, Trade and Investment. She was the only high-ranking woman in the cabinet at the time. In 2010, she ran for a seat in Tanzania’s National Assembly, winning by more than eighty per cent of the vote. She was appointed Minister of State for Union Affairs by then President Jakaya Kikwete. In 2014, Tanzania attempted to draft a new constitution, for which Suluhu was elected as the Vice Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly. During her time on the Constituent Assembly, many noted her calm demeanour and ability to manage outbreaks of pandemonium.
John Mugufuli chose Suluhu as his running mate in the 2015 election, and upon the subsequent win, Suluhu became Tanzania’s first female vice-president. During her term as vice-president, she earned the respect of many members of parliament who worked with her, noting her work ethic, temperament, and decision-making skills. In the 2020 election, Mugufuli and Suhulu won a second term in office.
Five months into their second term, President Mugufuli died, leaving Suluhu to inherit the presidential post according to the Tanzanian constitution. She has become the first female president of Tanzania, the second president from Zanzibar, and the third Muslim to hold the post.
While some may have initially expressed doubt regarding President Suhulu’s abilities, they were soon silenced. The first policy was in tackling the covid-19 pandemic. In contrast to Mugufuli’s policy of denial, President Suhulu began a vaccination campaign, stating that Tanzania could not isolate itself. And while Mugufuli was insular, President Suhulu is not. In her short time in office, she has made official visits to many of Tanzania’s neighbouring states, Mozambique, Uganda, and Kenya, in what some describe as a charm offensive in order to repair relations that suffered under her predecessor. Additionally, there are claims that Tanzania will ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, demonstrating further intentions to integrate into the region.
During President Suhulu’s first months in office in 2021, she has managed to attract 92 new investment projects, providing roughly $3.5 billion. In contrast, 2020 only saw around $300 million in investments during the same period. President Suhulu has restored investor confidence and attracted private sector investments. In April 2021, she finalised the agreement of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline with land-locked Uganda, which is expected to greatly improve both country’s economies. President Suhulu’s efforts are not limited to Africa though. She has been promoting Tanzanian tourism, appearing in the travel series, The Royal Tour, hosted by American journalist Peter Greenberg. Within her current tenure the East African Community will try to implement greater economic unity through issuing a common currency, and President Suhulu looks to be positioning Tanzania into a strong position.
Domestically, President Suhulu has restored some freedom of speech and has been more tolerant to her party’s opposition. However, she has yet to push for any changes in the law. Commenting about social media, Suhulu said that “it helps us know what people are thinking, if we ban it, we won’t have that platform”. Her new appointees include former opposition members, broadcasters, and artists, but also staunch party members from Mugufuli’s administration. The delicate balance between party loyalists and new faces may show Suhulu’s desire to create a more inclusive government. Sceptics suggest that more needs to be done to right the past’s wrongs. Despite criticism of her policies, President Suhulu has asked Tanzanians to “let me straighten up the country first” before addressing calls for constitutional reform. Until then, she has stated that she will side with her party concerning domestic policies. No doubt she will be looking to secure her party’s support for the 2025 election.