The lady has ridden into town, and notice is being taken.
People are asking such questions as, “Is she President Samia, President Suluhu or President Hassan?” but all that will soon clarify itself as people will learn a lesson or two on how Zanzibaris use their given names in conjunction with their fathers’ names and, even sobriquets. That will not be important.
What is important is that President Samia Suluhu Hassan has effectively taken over the reins of power in Dodoma, and looks like she is already getting used to playing head honcho, even if she is only the first female to be in that position.
The lady does not seem to be overly fazed, or intimidated by the enormity of the tasks she faces or the novelty of her position. She seems to have taken these in her stride and put her best foot forward as she has been making her first appointments and directives.
In a society that has been shorn of any serious journalism – the legacy of five years of media repression – most of the communications have been relegated to rumourmongering circulated through online media without any meaningful gatekeeping. With her new appointments come a few major disappointments, as she has trashed a lot of the gossip about who was in and who out.
Against much expectation, she picked the Finance Minister Philip Mpango to replace her as vice-president and followed it with a fast-tempo musical chairs concert that saw some ministers confirmed, others shunted to the service roads, others left out altogether.
Most significantly, she relegated Magufuli’s very last appointee Bashiru Ali Kakurwa, who had been sworn in as chief secretary only a couple of days before Magufuli went missing, to a mere appointed MP. But Bashiru could easily go back to the ruling CCM as secretary general, yet again.
In a way, Bashiru’s departure had been anticipated, because his appointment by Magufuli had been greeted with universal dismay as he had never worked for a day as a civil servant, and thus lacked the most basic attribute for the job of head of civil service. His briefly occupied office was in short order passed on to Hassan Katanga, until last week ambassador to Tokyo.
The case of Bashiru is widely seen as more than Samia wishing to assert her authority; rather it is a move aimed at respecting bureaucratic order and reducing the effects of kneejerk arbitrariness for which the deceased president was known.
Now for the hard part. Samia will have to deal with the huge issue of the Covid-19 pandemic, which her predecessor affected to have exorcised through prayer but which has killed many people in the country.
The Zanzibar First Vice-President, Seif Sharif Hamad, it is known, was felled by the pandemic, and the newly appointed Union Vice-President Philip Mpango was recently visibly recovering from the virus. Whatever has been keeping government officials from acknowledging the obvious, it is now the sacred duty of President Samia to declare the facts and to take up her role as the person to lead the country in avoiding any more self-inflicted deaths.
The president has demonstrated cool and poise in circumstances which could have caused a less solid individual to swoon. She will need all her fortitude and all the support of her subordinates in her party and government to steer Tanzania away from rampant virus denialism as well as debilitating authoritarianism.
This shall not be easy. A lot of what was achieved under Magufuli in the past five years, though sometimes commendable, was attained sometimes at the high cost of high-handedness and scant respect for rule of law, transparency and fairness.
Samia will find herself encumbered by the responsibility to redirect the country toward a consultative mode of governance wherein all stakeholders will be recognised as paid-up members of the national development processes and conversations.
We have been told that the new president has asked for answers regarding a number of transactions, and that forensic audits are in the process of being done, which is a good thing.
No amount of haste in the development calendar can justify blanket non-disclosure by those who are charged with superintending programmes and projects involving huge sums of money.
Key to putting the country back on the right track must pass through the liberation of the political and civil spaces seriously constricted in Magufuli’s five years. The new president will have to take measures to reassure all her citizens that they are endowed with the same political and civil rights as the members of her party.
Beyond that President Samia will want to consider overhauling our governance systems, structures and processes, enhancing the culture of responsibility and transparency, and doing away with the culture of impunity and opacity.
I see absolutely no reason why President Samia should not be the lady who chaperons the United Republic of Tanzania to a new and golden dawn, and that under her leadership this country will craft fresh and robust principles of governance enshrined in a new Constitution, written under her guidance, with the participation of all the vital forces of the nation. Karibu, Mama Samia!
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]