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Tanzania’s new leader has her work cut out

By Kalangi Kiambati | Mar 25th 2021 | 3 min read
President Samia Suluhu Hassan. [Courtesy]

Samia Suluhu Hassan’s ascension to the highest political office in Tanzania, though as a result of an unfortunate event, is quite commendable. As a female political leader, she has already broken many glass ceilings, having previously made history as the first female vice president of the East African country.

However, she takes over the presidency at a time the world is grappling with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even more important, she takes over from a leader whose response to the pandemic was unpopular with other leaders across the world.

John Pombe Magufuli’s skeptical approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been widely criticized as precariously dismissive, with outfits such as the World Health Organisation expressing concern over the country’s strategy in the fight against Covid-19.

Many analysts have argued that his idiosyncratic response to Covid-19 was indicative of the intransigence in his leadership style, citing many other incidents, such as his banning of pregnant school girls from continuing with the school as well as the alleged threat to use police force to stop citizens from participating in a planned countrywide protest organized by the country’s opposition party.

Although she was part of the leadership during Magufuli’s reign, the world now curiously waits to see whether President Suluhu will provide better solutions through a different approach, especially in the way she will deal with Covid-19.

When Covid-19 first broke out, there were many comparisons between the approaches of male-led countries and those of countries with females at the helm.

From the ‘decisiveness’ of Tsai Ingwen in Taiwan to the ‘alertness’ of Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand; from the free testing under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir in Iceland to the ‘master class in science communication’ under Germany’s Angela Merkel, many female leaders were viewed as providing what could become crucial case studies in the relationship between governance and the spread and fatality rates of Covid-19 worldwide. As a female leader, President Suluhu’s approach to Covid-19 management is likely to elicit similar comparisons to her predecessor’s and those of other presidents in the region and the world.

More importantly, besides the Covid-19 management plan, many will be looking to see what the newly sworn-in President will do to restore the declining confidence of many citizens in the country’s democracy.

Many critics saw the fleeing of the opposition leader into exile following the 2020 presidential elections as a sign of declining confidence in the democratic process owing to the late president’s ‘bulldozer’ style of leadership.

It will be in her best interest to reassure the country of her commitment to listening to, and bringing together divergent views if history is to judge her fairly. Her ability to steer the country away from any further polarisation and towards their common goals will form a critical part of her legacy.

As one of only a few top female political leaders in Africa and indeed the world, Suluhu also inevitably bears the burden of demonstrating the capabilities of women as political leaders. She joins the very small, but growing group of female leaders on whose shoulders lies the burden of shattering various glass ceilings in corporate and political boardrooms.

Ascension to the presidency represents, in many ways, the quintessence of self-actualization for any political leader. A female president, therefore, presents the perfect role model for many aspiring girls in East Africa.

Entire continent

Inevitably, the issue of gender and its role in leadership style will come up in discourses analyzing her performance as President of Tanzania. Her leadership is likely to play a key role in shaping dialogue on gender inclusion not only in Tanzania but also in East Africa and the entire continent.

With accomplishments such as becoming Tanzania’s first female vice-president, the first president born in Zanzibar, and the first female president, Samia Suluhu already represents the perfect example of what determination and focus can do.

However, it is her commitment to continuing her predecessor’s development record of accomplishment and, more importantly, her courage to make a U-turn on his potentially harmful stances that will form the basis for how history will judge her as the sixth and first female President of Tanzania.

Covid 19 Time Series


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