In her first 100 days, President Samia Suluhu Hassan is steadily steering Tanzania to tackle COVID-19 after months of inaction. She has also pledged to promote freedom of expression. Will that cost her politically?
On the streets of Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, the hustle of life goes on. Many, it appears, are oblivious that it has been 100 days since Samia Suluhu Hassan made history when she was sworn in as the first female president of Tanzania. Those who spoke to DW had differing opinions on Suluhu Hassan’s performance so far.
“We thank God for having Samia as our president, but one issue that she should work on is the increase on sim card charges. This will hurt ordinary citizens and not government leaders,” Huruma Swai said.
Ali Mshangila, another Dar es Salaam resident, said he was grateful to the president for lowering electricity charges. “I didn’t expect to pay only 27,000 Tanzanian Shilling ($12, €10). Big up to our president,” Ali said.
“Her leadership is not bad but also is not good,” Savera Mathias, an entrepreneur in Dar es Salaam, noted. “We have been getting some challenges to do our business. I am fighting to get a national ID without success until now.”
In one of her most significant political moves, President Suluhu Hassan appointed ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party loyalists and some new faces as district commissioners. The Citizen, a Tanzanian online daily, described the appointments as a delicate balancing act.
Some of the new appointees include former opposition members, broadcasters, and artists. Suluhu had previously recommended that party stalwarts brace for the changes, stating that it was necessary to build unity for the country.
Observers agree that the political temperature has gone down under the new leadership compared to the five years under late president John Magufuli. In an interview with The Africa Report, Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, said the situation has changed because people are beginning to exercise their freedom of speech.
Kabwe noted that the press could now report on matters that during Magufuli’s presidency were untouchable. However, he lamented that there had been no changes as far as repressive laws were concerned and singled out police chief Simon Sirro, whom he accused of enforcing ‘dictatorial directives’ from the previous administration.
Tanzania’s opposition ACT Wazalendo party Zitto, says the opposition is “relaxed,” but oppressive laws need to be repealed
DW reached out to Tanzania’s government spokesperson Gerson Msigwa for a statement to mark the president’s milestone but received no response.
“The main concern was that the civic space was so squeezed that people could not even breathe, but now opposition parties are beginning to speak up,” Tanzanian lawyer and political analyst Khamis Lindi said. They [opposition] are not being arrested as was the case earlier,” Lindi told DW.
Since Tanzania’s unification in 1964, the East African nation of nearly 60 million people has had six presidencies. Lindi said he doesn’t believe the political changes by Suluhu Hassan will cost her. “Whenever a new president is sworn in, there is always a sense of fear and anxiety,” Lindi said, adding that those who fear are mostly politicians who used to benefit from the previous administration. “They ask themselves: “Will we continue to be part of this new administration or will we be swept away?” So they are the ones who cause this fear but I don’t think that the ordinary citizens are affected by these changes.”
DW’s Harrison Mwilima, who was born in Tanzania and is now based in Berlin, said it was too early to gauge President Suluhu Hassan’s overall performance but that she represents a new chapter. “She has shown that she wants to talk to the opposition, to make things open for the opposition to practice their politics.”
Tanzania’s Deputy Health Minister Godwin Mollel warned citizens in a DW interview to be aware of the third wave of COVID-19. He urged them to take all necessary measures, including masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer to prevent infection.
“We are aware that tourists are coming, people from neighboring countries are coming. Before they enter our country, we screen them. We also know the threat in the countries that surround us,” Mollel said.
The last published COVID figures in Tanzania are from April 2020. Pressed by DW on when the country will resume sharing data as recommended by the World Health Organization, Mollel defended Tanzania’s position.
“Tanzania never stopped handing over data. The government stopped publishing the statistics in a bid to prevent alarm among the public,” Mollel said, adding that the figures have always been there. “If we did not have these numbers and had no clue of what is going in the country, we would have been petrified.”
DW’s Harrison Mwilima, who specializes in Europe-Africa relations, said Suluhu Hassan’s decision to form a committee tasked with tackling COVID-19 and her request for vaccines from the COVAX facility for developing countries was a complete shift from the previous regime.
Tanzania’s press was heavily censored during the previous regime but that, too, is changing
Suluhu hassan has also been keen to improve Tanzania’s image internationally, said Mwilima. “She picked a highly respected diplomat, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, the former ambassador to the US. This was a sign that she chose a foreign minister who understands the world and other international partners.”
According to Mwilima, the appointment of Mulamula sent a positive signal to the international community that Tanzania’s new president is serious about international relations.
Suluhu Hassan has traveled twice to Uganda and made a two-day official visit to Kenya. The relations between Kenya and Tanzania had earlier been strained under Magufuli’s leadership. The two countries had disputes on cross-border trade, tariffs, among others. In Kenya, Suluhu Hassan sought to press the reset button with her counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Last week, she was in Mozambique to attend a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit. “She’s not only improving relations with her direct neighbors in the East African Community, but she’s also improving relations with SADC countries in southern Africa,” Mwilima said.
In her early speeches, Suluhu Hassan called on foreign direct foreign investment, which in many instances mean changing policies internally. Recently she caused a stir when she ordered the country’s central bank to prepare for the use of cryptocurrencies as legal tender.