President Samia Suluhu took time this past week to outline her achievements in her first year in office and her plans for the future, pledging to deepen trade relations with Tanzania’s neighbours, increase funding for infrastructure projects and end corruption.
In a media interview, President Samia promised to deepen diplomatic relations and position Tanzania as an investment hub in East Africa.
On March 19, 2021, Samia was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president after the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli.
Her political path has been marked by a series of surprises since being elected in the politically male-dominated island of Zanzibar, to becoming a presidential running mate in 2015 when the late Magufuli plucked her from Chama Cha Mapinduzi party stalwarts.
“My ascendancy to the presidency was not a smooth one… It was a very difficult time for me and my country,” recalled President Samia.
“But, thanks to our constitution and the love of God, the smooth political power transition that was witnessed in our country will forever linger on for a long time to come.”
President Samia’s sweeping policy changes — from diplomacy to women’s rights and media relations — endeared her to many, including the opposition.
There are quick gains recorded, top among them the turnaround from Covid denialism to beating the virus.
The World Health Organisation on Tuesday praised her public health measures, including improved surveillance and contact tracing, saying they have been crucial in curbing the spread of the virus.
"The past two years have been extremely challenging, but we've learnt crucial public health lessons. We are emerging stronger and look forward to bolstering and improving the health system to be more resilient to future emergencies," said WHO Tanzania Country Representative Tigest Ketsela Mengestu.
According to a Ministry of Health report released on March 11, so far, the country has recorded 33,773 cases of Covid-19 and 800 deaths.
“The biggest achievement in the fight against Covid-19 was the country’s decision to join the Covax facility,” said President Samia. “We have received more than five million vaccine doses. We have carried our vaccination to about 12 percent of population —about four million people fully vaccinated.”
Her foreign policy has also starkly differed with her predecessor’s. While President Magufuli, during his first term in office, visited only seven countries, President Samia, in 360 days, has held meetings with foreign diplomats, the four EAC heads of state, and leaders from the UN, European Union, World Bank and the IMF.
“When I took over office in March 2021, the country’s relations with her neighbours, especially Kenya, were at an all-time low. You recall our relationship with Kenya was not good. We had even at one stage closed our borders,” she said.
“I decided that we must begin mending our relations with our northern neighbour, so I decided to go to Nairobi for talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta. I took with me the business community. We held talks with the private sector in a cordial and open manner about what was ailing our two countries.”
She narrated how the private sector identified bottlenecks between the two EAC founder members and later provided a road map to mending the political and economic tensions.
“Today, our trade with Kenya has increased tremendously. Kenya has admitted that the balance of trade is now in favour of Tanzania,” she said.
Latest data from the Bank of Tanzania shows that Tanzanian exports to Kenya in the last quarter of 2020 stood at $230 million, compared with $249.6 million worth of imports.
“In Uganda, things were not so smooth as far as the oil pipeline is concerned. So I also had to go to Uganda to ensure the deal was signed and construction commenced,” President Samia explained. “We also discussed railway line construction with Rwanda. But, so far, not much is going on and we have assigned experts to relook at the issues.”
She promised to mend relations with her southern neighbours Zambia and Malawi.
On infrastructure, she promised to oversee the completion of projects that were begun by her predecessor, and to fight corruption.
“We are seeking funding from the African Development Bank to complete the SGR project that will see connectivity to Burundi and to the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she added.
Despite her efforts to steer Tanzania to a new economic front, President Samia was non-committal on requests by Chadema leaders for the revival of the constitutional reform process and the lifting of a ban on political rallies imposed by Magufuli.
"The economy, which is our main focus, is not yet stable, so we are still dealing with the economy,” she said.
Additional reporting by Bob Karashani.