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Women in Leadership: Tanzania sets the pace

By Jokate Urban Mwegelo and Seleman Yusuph Kitenge

Across the world, even in the most advanced democracies and states, men have traditionally dominated most positions of power. Tanzania is no exception; the country has had six presidents since her independence from Britain on December 9, 1961. Incumbent Tanzanian President, Samia Suluhu Hassan became the first woman to serve in this role following the sudden demise of President John Pombe Magufuli in early March 2021. It is important to note that perhaps Tanzania would not have had the chance in these most recent years to witness this historic moment of a female touch in the country’s highest office if it were not a constitutional requirement that the Vice President be sworn in if the sitting president died. Specifically, Article 37 of the Constitution of Tanzania states “if the President dies, resigns, is permanently incapacitated, or is disqualified, the Vice President ascends to the presidency for the balance of the term.” It is true that the constitutional provision paved the way to Samia’s historic ascent to the presidency, she remains a historic figure and pace setter in the country’s political leadership as the first female Vice President in Tanzania’s political landscape.

Being the first female occupant of the State House of The United Republic of Tanzania, Samia expectedly confronted prejudices and skepticisms from her colleagues in a predominantly male political environment. Some were concerned that a woman would not be capable of effectively leading the country. While she was first inaugurated as head of state, President Samia acknowledged that some questioned her qualifications for the position due to her gender in an interview she gave to BBC Africa on August 9, 2021.
“Even some of my government workers dismissed me at first as just another woman, but they soon accepted my leadership,” stated President Samia. Some “don’t believe that women can be better presidents and we are here to show them,” she stressed. After nearly three years in office, President Samia has indeed proved her naysayers wrong; most likely not by design but by the nature of her leadership style that women can and do make excellent presidents.
President Samia assumed office, at a time when the nation was in the midst of a political upheaval, with some citizens angry and suffering under arbitrary policies and decisions, and with dwindling civil liberties and political freedom. On top of that, opposition leaders were denied their constitutional right to organize public gatherings and hold political rallies, and some of them sought political asylum abroad in fear of persecution.
Acknowledging the criticisms directed towards the government by opposition leaders, civil society, the media, and the international community, President Samia chose to pursue a different path for the country to address and resolve the grievances that had caused national division. She pursued a path to reverse the policies that had polarized the opposition, media, civil society, and business leaders, and instead championed democracy through her 4Rs philosophy that include Reconciliation, Resilience, Reforms, and Rebuilding. This approach has become crucial in addressing the country’s current social, political, and economic issues. President Samia here puts nation- building first at the risk of being seen as too accommodating and losing grip of the many powers the President can decide to exploit at the detriment of the greater good of the nation.
For instance, in response to public allegations of unethical behavior within Tanzania’s criminal justice system, President Samia established an investigative commission. Specifically, she gave them the mission of looking into the Tanzania Police Force, the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), the Drug Control and Enforcement Authority (DCEA), the National Prosecutions Services and the Tanzania Prisons Service, among other institutions. She also lifted the ban on political rallies, made it possible for opposition members living abroad to return to Tanzania, and reversed the decision to revoke the licenses of banned media outlets. Also, she reversed the policy that had previously prevented teenage mothers from going back to school. In a nutshell, most of Magufuli’s regressive policies have been reversed by her. She has implemented a comprehensive restructuring of both the government and the party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi), with the aim of aligning them with her strategic vision for healing and reforming the country.
Furthermore, Mr. Freeman Mbowe, the Chairman of the opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), was incarcerated for seven months before the government dropped terrorism charges against him in March 2022. Shortly after his release, President Samia met with Mbowe at the state house, where they expressed their commitment to reconciling differences and strengthening democracy. On March 8, 2023, President Samia attended the BAWACHA Women’s Day Event, where she received an award from the CHADEMA women’s wing. This award marked a significant step in the reconciliation process she initiated.
President Samia recently approved several bills aimed at overhauling the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Bill, 2023; the Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Government Elections Bill, 2023; and the Political Parties Affairs Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023. Additionally, she has indicated her readiness to revive the constitutional reform process that was stalled during Kikwete’s presidency. The initiatives undertaken by President Samia to implement her 4Rs philosophy underscore the compelling case for her consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is not only a champion of democratic principles and the rule of law but also a steadfast peacebuilder who has successfully reconciled, reformed, and rebuilt Tanzania’s political landscape to include the voices of all political parties, civil society, and other social groups despite existing challenges.

The Authors:

Ms. Jokate Urban Mwegelo is the Secretary General of the Revolutionary Party Youth Wing (Umoja wa Vijana wa Chama cha Mapinduzi – UVCCM).
Mr. Seleman Yusuph Kitenge is an independent writer and researcher who writes on various social, political, and economic issues in Africa.

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