Leader’s star continues to shine, placing her among world’s greatest women

Saturday December 11 2021
School children

School children perform at the 60th Independence Day at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam on December 9, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


When Forbes included Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu on its list of 100 Most Powerful Women in the World this week, it underscored the notable rise of a woman whose political star continues to glitter only nine months after taking office.

Coming at position 94, President Samia shared the venerated stage with such notables as US Vice President Kamala Harris (position 2), European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde (3), Melinda French Gates (5) and MacKenzie Scott, who topped the list.

The list also featured Queen Elizabeth II, at position 70.

President Samia, 61, was one of three Africans on the list – now in its 18th edition – the other two being Nigerians Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, and media mogul Mo Abudu.

Less than a year in office, Samia, the only current female African head of state –Ethiopia’s presidency is ceremonial –has established herself as a world leader, having taken a position on key global issues, including regional security, unity, gender equality and vaccine equality.

Her leadership style has also been in stark contrast to that of her predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in office in March, particularly in the areas of diplomacy and approach to the Covid-19 global pandemic.


While Magufuli was largely inward-looking, Samia has been open to robust relations between Tanzania and other countries. After years of tense diplomatic relations between Tanzania and it regional neighbours, especially Kenya, Samia made her first official visit to Nairobi after assuming office. She and her host President Uhuru Kenyatta held talks on strengthening trade relations. She even addressed Kenya’s Parliament during her three-day visit in April, which endeared her to Kenyans.

Earlier, she had visited Kampala, as she sought to revive regional ties that had been largely lukewarm during Magufuli’s six-year rule.

Whereas Magufuli downplayed Covid and failed to institute measures to curb the spread of the virus in its early days, President Samia has been hailed for implementing Covid-19 protocols in the country, thus bringing the number of infections down substantially.

But it is at the UN General Assembly in September where President Samia made history by becoming the 5th African female leader to address it in its 76 years of existence.

In her address, she lamented the vaccine inequality in the world, saying that poor and middle-income countries had yet to vaccinate two percent of their populations while rich nations were already giving booster shots to their citizens.

“At the current pace, it is less likely that we will meet the WHO threshold of vaccinating at least 40 percent of people in every country by end of 2021, and at least 70 percent by the first half of 2022,” President Samia said, calling for a waiver of rights for vaccine patents to allow Third World countries to produce them.

She called for harmony and unity of purpose among world countries, arguing that multilateralism was the best solution to universal issues, more so as countries battled Covid-19.

“Unilateralism will not get us anywhere when it comes to challenges that transcend our national boundaries. A wise person said, and I quote, ‘Alone, one will go faster, but together we will go far’.”

Noting that the expectation to deliver on gender equality is “heavy on my shoulders,” she said her government was already “reviewing policy and legal frameworks” aimed at coming up “actionable and measurable plans to ensure economic empowerment of women and other aspects pertaining to gender equality and gender parity.”

Samia may have held other political roles, including as a Cabinet minister, but she was thrust into the limelight proper when, in a surprise move that stunned the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) establishment, Magufuli picked her as his running mate in 2015.

Running alongside Magufuli and winning two elections would anchor her on the path of taking over from him when he died in March to become Tanzania’s sixth president.

The BBC has described her as thoughtful, considered and a good listener, while Bumbuli MP January Makamba, who worked with her in the Vice President’s office, termed her “the most underrated politician in Tanzania.”

Few people would have pictured Samia as president of Tanzania only six years ago.

Hers may be a case of being at the right place at the right time, but she has taken the presidency in her stride, making a mark as a leader who’s determined to cement her country’s influence in the region and the world.