Dodom: When Samia Suluhu Hassan became president of Tanzania a year ago after the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli, many women had high hopes.
It wasn’t just President Suluhu Hassan’s enormous potential as a role model – upon her inauguration on March 19, 2021, she became Tanzania’s first female president, as well as Africa’s only female head of state. .
It is also that the late President Magufuli made frequent comments denigrating women while supporting policies that restrict their rights. For example, he banned pregnant teenagers from returning to school.
Now, a year later, many women applaud Suluhu Hassan for her leadership style and her promotion of women.
They also commend the President for pulling her country out of the economic and health crises triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Suluhu Hassan has also strengthened Tanzania’s regional position since taking office.
The 62-year-old leader has given Tanzania a diplomatic facelift after Magufuli-era isolation. She has visited several African and European countries and the United Arab Emirates over the past year.
“Issues of economic diplomacy and trade relations have improved so much [under President Suluhu Hassan]Ugandan human rights and women’s rights defender Stella Nyanzi told DW.
This has enabled Tanzania to secure financing and sign contracts for several major projects, including a 178 million euro ($196 million) concessional loan for bus rapid transit, financing for renovation of the international airport and 450 million euros in EU relief funds for COVID-19, according to the Tanzanian daily The Citizen.
Under Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania is rapidly opening up to its neighbours.
The country ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) last year, giving Tanzania access to a market of 1.2 billion potential customers.
Last month, his administration agreed to join the rest of the East African Community in signing a trade deal with the European Union, which Magufuli had previously blocked. Tanzania also recently removed dozens of trade barriers with Kenya.
The country is now reaping the benefits of these policy changes.
Tanzania’s exports of manufactured goods to its neighbors rose by a third, “the highest trade on record”, said Frannie Leautier, a Tanzanian-born international investment consultant. She has held senior management positions at the African Development Bank and the World Bank Group.
For Leautier, one of the main achievements of President Suluhu Hassan is how she “led the role of Tanzania” both in the East African region and elsewhere, and on the continent after the launch of the AfCFTA.
Tanzania’s national poverty rate declined in 2021, despite the effects of the pandemic, Leautier said, adding that the Tanzanian shilling is also the most stable currency in East Africa.
Dar es Salaam resident Monica Patric told DW’s Kiswahili service that the “big things [President Suluhu Hassan] done inside and outside the country”, which is why she is happy as a woman with her performance.
“There are so many changes since President Samia took office,” she said. “So many people and I are proud of her.”
women in power
Having a female president has great symbolic value beyond Tanzania to show that African women can govern, says Ugandan women’s rights advocate Stella Nyanzi.
“I celebrate President Samia Suluhu Hassan because she echoed the importance of giving governance to women,” she said. “She’s not perfect, but she does a good job.”
Nyanzi added that she thinks many have underestimated the president because she is a Muslim woman and wears a hijab.
Another Dar es Salaam resident, Mary Sandi, said she appreciated seeing more women rise to influential political positions.
“Our parliamentary speaker is a woman and is doing a great job in parliament, which is a great achievement because parliament is stable and doing well,” she told DW.
Tanzania has more women ministers than ever before. After several cabinet reshuffles over the past year, nine out of 25 ministries, or 36 percent, are currently headed by women.
This includes the appointment of Stergomena Tax to head the Ministry of Defence, the first time in the country’s history that the critical post has gone to a woman.
“It seems like she is prioritizing professionalism, ability and ability, and that means a lot more female nominations,” said Tanzanian political commentator and feminist blogger Elsie Eyakuze.
President Suluhu Hassan also appears to be giving young women a chance to demonstrate their leadership skills. For example, Tanzania’s ambassador to the United States, former economist Elsie Sia Kanza, is only 46 years old.
“[President Suluhu Hassan] appointed young women, and women in general, to non-traditional roles by examining their skills and abilities and setting them up for success,” said financial consultant Leautier.
The president herself pointed out that 13 women were among the 28 new judges she recently appointed.
Neighboring Rwanda, where just over half of ministers and judges are women, shows that traditionally male-dominated African nations can place women in leadership positions.
But it’s not something Tanzania can do overnight, experts say.
“I would be concerned if she tried to drive for parity immediately because we need time as a society to get used to certain things,” political commentator Eyakuze told DW.
“If she is seen to be absolutely and completely favoring women and being a feminist, it might actually elicit negative reactions instead of creating a constructive situation.”
This does not mean that President Suluhu Hassan supports all women. Last year she sparked an uproar when she described female footballers nationwide as having “flat chests” and not being attractive for marriage.
At the time, women’s rights activist Mwanahamisi Singano called President Suluhu Hassan’s statement a humiliation for women.
“Especially African women, because we know their female bodies have been objectified for so long,” Singano told DW in August 2021.
“We’ve been pushed to fit into certain categories of beauty, so it’s really sad to hear that the president is saying those words in a way that says, if you don’t have those qualities, you’re not enough. woman. You’re not attractive.”
In addition, the seven-month imprisonment of opposition politician Chadema Freeman Mbowe, who was released two weeks ago, has fueled concern among rights groups over whether President Suluhu Hassan is returning to power. repressive techniques of the late John Magufuli. But in an exclusive interview with DW, she dismissed allegations of oppression by her political opponents.
“Regarding the complaints of political parties to be allowed to hold rallies, which is their legal right. We have asked them to discuss and let the government know how they intend to conduct these meetings without chaos, by destroying people’s property or creating chaos in the country,” Suluhu Hassan said. “They should sit down and discuss and let the government know what they have decided. We will respond and allow them.”
She also ruled out an upcoming constitutional review, saying Tanzanians had more pressing issues. “Citizens expect good schools where their children can go to learn. They are waiting for the construction of health centers, water supply and rural electrification. [amendment] exercise is very expensive.”
However, the Tanzanian leader emphasized that she understood the importance of the constitution. “It’s vital. So we will wait for recommendations from political parties and see the way forward, but for now we want to focus on the needs of citizens,” she told DW.