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Samia Suluhu Hassan President: A New Chapter for Tanzania?

Three questions to Aikande Kwayu

INTERVIEW - 9 April 2021

On March 18, John Magufuli, President of the Republic of Tanzania died, opening the door for Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan to take over the country’s leadership. Distinctively different in style from Magufuli, the country’s first female president and currently only the second in the continent, now-President Hassan has caused many to wonder what changes she may bring to the country, and perhaps to the region more broadly. Aikande C. Kwayu, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Wisconsin-Madison and currently based in Tanzania, gives us her perspective as to the power shift that may be happening in the country.

In March, Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as President of Tanzania after her predecessor John Magufuli passed away. What is the current state of the country that she is now tasked with leading?

There is a fresh air and new ambiance of relief in Tanzania. Since she was sworn in, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has delivered at least 5 speeches. One on her swearing-in ceremony, two during funeral services of the late President Magufuli, and two during the swearing in of her new cabinet members and Permanent Secretaries for the Ministries. In all of the speeches, she has set a new tone towards improving civic space as well as the business environment. A shrinking civic space and a poor business environment were two main concerns during Magufuli’s administration. Thus, she is setting a new tone with directives such as reopening of all banned media outlets and asking the Tanzania Revenue Authorities to ensure taxes are charged in a way that would encourage business growth rather than shutting them down, which is a big relief to many Tanzanians. 

Samia Suluhu Hassan’s style of governance seems different from the one of Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer". How would you explain her approach to politics?

President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s approach is calm and diplomatic. She has set a reconciliatory tone.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s approach is calm and diplomatic. She engages. She has set a reconciliatory tone. Apart from domestic politics, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has also expressed a plan to rekindle Tanzania’s international relations and reputation. She has appointed a new Foreign Affairs Minister, Libereta Mulamula, who was formerly a Tanzanian Ambassador to the United States and with wide experience in diplomacy.  

She has also welcomed foreign investors and urged the Tanzanian Authorities that are responsible for taxes, immigration and business licenses to be more friendly and accommodative to foreign investors in order to attract investment. Thus, her politics is liberal, as opposed to the late President Magufuli’s nationalistic politics.

With regards to her style of politics, it is interesting to note the subtleness in which she carries out incremental changes, but with a sharp message that signals transformation. Her diversion from Magufuli’s administrative style is vivid, yet she is mostly keeping the same people, though with new instructions and expectations. The governance structure of Tanzania and subjective political culture will allow her subtleness to work since the President is endowed with enormous powers through the Constitution. 

Critically, we need to remember that President Samia Suluhu Hassan belongs to the same political party as the late President Magufuli. Electoral and power politics might somehow force her politics to change in the future, for the purpose of maintaining power. It is only time that will show us how sustainable her politics and style is. 

Electoral and power politics might somehow force her politics to change in the future. 

The former President was well-known for his skepticism towards Covid-19. Will the country adopt a new strategy?

In her April 6, 2021 speech, President Hassan diverted from Magufuli’s take on Covid-19. She has promised to set a committee of experts to look into ways through which Tanzania can address Covid-19 and take appropriate measures. She also stressed that Tanzania cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world in the fight against Covid-19. Typical to her style, the diversion has been done in a subtle, yet sharp manner. Subtle in the sense that President Samia Suluhu Hassan did not immediately start to embrace scientific measures against Covid-19 following the death of Magufuli, but she did not make any skeptical comments on the pandemic. Her promise to form a special committee has been welcomed and widely lauded. 


Copyright: STR / AFP


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