Samia Suluhu Hassan: The Improbable Presidency and The Making of a Legacy
When Samiah Suluhu Hassan was sworn in on 19th March, 2021, she became the first of the following; the first woman and the first vice president to ascend to the presidency. She also became the first ever vice president to inherit the presidency through the death of a sitting head of state. I cannot begin to imagine what she had to navigate through those first few moments, days and weeks after the death of the late Magufuli.
If I am to sum-up President Hassan’s circumstance then it would be a quote from famous English Playwright William Shakespeare: Some a born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. According to President Hassan’s own narration of events, she admits to being dumbfounded and breaking into tears when in 2015 then President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete informed her that presidential candidate Magufuli had chosen her as his running mate. This set into motion her ascendance as the first ever female Vice-President of Tanzania. It was very fitting considering that in 2015 it was the first time in the ruling party’s history that women had entered the top 3 of the presidential nomination process.
It is safe to say that just a few years ago President Hassan might have to envisioned herself as president especially under the above circumstances. But fate has a way of finding you whether you like it or not and fate brought her to the footsteps of the State House. And as much as she has publically stated that her and Magufuli are one in the same, it is very clear for all to see that she is a president in her own right and has her own vision for the country. For one, her leadership style is very distinct from that of her predecessor. Many have hailed her for choosing a softer and more diplomatic tone in public. She has also reshuffled and made changes to different positions within the party and state apparatus.
On 28th of March on one of her first official duties as president, Madam Samia Suluhu Hassan received the official report from the government Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Unlike previous reports under her predecessor, the CAG report included ATCL running at a loss which the previous regime claimed was making profits year in and year out and also discrepancies at the Tanzanian Port Authority which led to the ouster of its Managing Director.
Even in law enforcement the President has looked to distinguish herself by recently making changes in the office of public prosecution by appoint a new DPP and DDPP and also appointing a new head of PCCB (TAKUKURU). She publically let it be known that there were 147 trumped up charges at PCCB which have since been dropped and also informed the police force that fines should not be a source of income for the police and that the law should not be used as an investment tool to siphon money from citizens.
She also quickly moved to ensure the public and the media of their freedom of expression by demanding that the Ministry of Information together with TCRA move to open media houses which had been banned during the last couples of years especially heading towards the general elections in 2020.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan has also seeked to return Tanzania to the international stage through a slew of things such as reengaging the international donor community, attending virtual conferences by world leaders and making her first official state visit to neighboring Kenya with which we have had a dicey relationship with the last couple of years. It was actually during a visit to Kenya where she met the business community there and cheekily said “You’re lucky to have on this side of the border Uhuru (freedom) to do business and on the other Suluhu (solution) to all trade barriers, it’s now all up to you,”.
On the health front, she has taken a complete 180 degrees approach from the previous government by setting up a special committee lead by Prof Said Aboud to advice her government on the way forward regarding the Corona pandemic which has swept the globe. Government and public officials are now seen wearing masks during official events and social distancing is being observed. The committee has advised that Tanzania enter the COVAX program which is a program aimed at assisting and ensuring that the poorer nations of the world receive Covid19 vaccines. The committee also suggested that the vaccines should only be administered to willing citizens. Her predecessor was suspicious of Covid19 vaccines and advocated for local preventive measures such as nasal steaming and the use of local roots and leaves. The committee has advised that the government revert back into giving statistics on Covid19 infection and death rates. The 5th phase government stopped giving statistics on Covid19 since March of last year.
It is very clear that as much as the President has gone out of her way to publically assure Magufulilites that she and the late President are one in the same, it is quit obvious that she has stepped out of his shadows and looks to create her own legacy. During the first few days of her young presidency she made sure to make it clear who was in charge by stating in Dodoma during Magufuli’s state funeral “To all those who have doubt that this woman can be President of the United Republic of Tanzania, I want to tell you that the one standing before you is the President of the United Republic of Tanzania.” Speaking during the swearing in of her cabinet she warned politicians of her party who had started campaigning ahead of the 2025 elections telling them that her “eyes maybe lazy but they see everything” and warning them to stop immediately.
To those claiming she is dismantling Magufuli’s legacy I say let us not be hypocrites. Every successive president we have had has in one way or another has dismantled the legacy of their predecessor in one way or another. Mwalimu was a socialist and believed in a strong one party system while Mzee Rhuksa oversaw the countries progression into capitalism and multipartism. Big Ben privatized a majority of of public owned enterprises. JK was famous for being diplomatic and travelling around the world to seek financial aid and foreign investments into Tanzania even receiving the not so flattering nickname of Vasco Da Gama. JPM never travelled much outside of Tanzania and banned foreign travels for government officials and was famously skeptical of foreign aid and foreign investors. So to act like each government phase has been a continuation of the former is a grand lie and the same way other presidents were allowed to curb out their own legacies so should Samia Suluhu Hassan as well.
Where does all this leave Magufulilites? It is obvious that the former president attracted a strong cult of personality and was loved and adored by those who genuinely believed in his agenda and approach. For those who believed that the late president was the end all be all regarding the future of the country, now have to reconcile with reality. His legacy will never completely be erased but the country must move forward with President Samia Suluhu Hassan at the helm. Let us allow her the opportunity and courtesy of enacting her agenda with her approach. There was a reason he chose her as his running mate twice so for everyone who had faith in Magufuli should have faith in the person he selected to be his principle aide and advisor and potentially his successor if the worse came to worse as our Constitution dictates. The country is now Samia Suluhu Hassan’s and her success is our success. Whether you hate her or love her. Whether you agree or disagree with her. It is time to let her govern and reserve criticism for when it has been earned.
Thomas Joel Kibwana