On Wednesday morning, a Nigerian television show interviewed me about President Samia Suluhu Hassan and what she would do with regards to Covid-19, the health of our democracy, what her reception would be as our first President who is a woman and more. I confidently proceeded to give them my usual spiel. Complimentary of her as vice president, small nugget of information about her pre-VP career, pleasantly balanced optimism. Eloquently non-committal is the style.
I was high off the success of politely refusing to let the interviewer dominate the agenda with other news agencies, especially because I had no intention of answering That Ghoulish Question. Also, this far into the national funeral I was cranky, having spent too much time being exposed to the expected but still overwhelming hagiography.
Someone finally wanted to talk about President Hassan. Fellow Africans. It should have been pleasantly easy.
I learned two lessons. First of all, Nigeria is a highly competitive society. This leads to the production of excellent professionals. Knowing this, I still managed to overestimate my ability to “handle” the interviewers. They firmly took control and dragged some candid statements out of me. I left the broadcast bruised, but proud, like a gladiator who lived to tell the tale of her battle. It was glorious. Nigeria, I get it now. I am a newly converted fan. But maybe not Nollywood, not quite yet.
Secondly, I learned that the time I thought I had to carefully craft my message about President Hassan is gone. In Tanzania, we are in the bubble of the State Funeral.
Only CCM has to make critical decisions behind the scenes as the late President Magufuli’s cortege makes its way to his final resting place in Chato. The rest of us are content to wait until the end of the 21 mandated days of mourning to even begin to think about beginning to think about observing what may or may not happen, perhaps.
Well. This is not strictly true. Through social media, everyone and their uncle is telling President Hassan what to do which I found infuriating until I realised that this is the only way to communicate wishes, hopes and dreams to the new President of Tanzania.
Now I am only irritated if non-Tanzanians do it, displaying the all-too-common “usinipangie, we nani?” (Don’t tell me what to do, who are you even?) nationalism that we suffer from. It is a blessing; it is a curse.
The plan was to use this opportunity to write my first article about President Samia Suluhu Hassan. I am excited, this is the third President of the United Republic of Tanzania that I get to write about in a professional capacity and I am a feminist. I was to introduce her to you, if you can believe the conceit, and talk about the significance of her being a woman president as if I speak for all Tanzanian women. What could go wrong?
Ego. That is what usually goes wrong, isn’t it? Oh, the irony.
I had years to ken President Kikwete before I started writing in his second term. By the time the late President Magufuli came along I had been subjected to the seemingly interminable CCM campaign to get us to vote him into power. I could confidently say a thing or two.
President Hassan however was just one of the many familiar and generally ignored faces of the machinery of Party and State. As our vice president, she spent five years representing Tanzania overseas and doing those boring things they make vice presidents do. Tanzanian Veeps, like so many African veeps, suffer from irrelevance.
Admit it. We don’t spend any time thinking about them unless the circumstances are special, like in Kenya or Zanzibar. They are the grey, faceless men we take for granted, carrying out forgettable duties until they retire into permanent obscurity…or become president.
What I am saying is, I am in no position to introduce President Hassan to anyone, Dear Reader, nor to elucidate anything about her de jure presidency which is only a handful of days old at the time of writing. Like you, I am getting to know her. I can only say what I think and feel for now, keeping it real and respectful. I have Nigerian journalists to thank for teaching me to handle this confusing de facto interregnum better.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan is our first Zanzibari President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Colleagues have spoken well of her, which may be the usual drivel, but it seems genuine from certain public figures whose opinions I value. What I have seen and heard from her so far makes me both calm and excited about her stewardship in these unprecedented times. We call her Mama Samia out of affection and respect. Others may not because when you use a Tanzanian president’s nickname uninvited, it offends our delicate sensibilities.
Until otherwise instructed, the correct terms of address are the same as with every Head of State. Calling her “President Samia” will not be tolerated by me, I am especially determined that Her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan of the United Republic of Tanzania be given her due respect. Nitarudia: Her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan of the United Republic of Tanzania. Any hint of chauvinistic laxity in this department will trigger me.
I wish you a pleasant and productive week.
Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]