Here comes Tanzania’s 2025 race: Will Suluhu sit down or stand up and run?

Saturday February 24 2024

Samia has not yet carved out a definitive image of herself. Though she took some Magufuli-era boots off the necks of journalists, eased some restrictions on the opposition, and doesn’t rail wildly against the independent media as her predecessor did, Tanzania is still not a journalism paradise. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Tanzania goes to the ballot in October 2025, but visiting the commercial capital Dar es Salaam a few days ago, it was a big surprise to find some journalists and analysts who weren’t sure that President Samia Suluhu Hassan would be in the running.

As vice-president, President Samia automatically took over the presidency when her mercurial iron-fisted predecessor John Magufuli died in office in March 2021.

Last September, Samia carried out the third Cabinet reshuffle of her short presidency and moved ruling party star January Makamba from the Energy portfolio to Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation.

In November, Africa Report noted that, “The change at the Foreign Ministry was particularly perplexing. Why would President Samia replace a seasoned diplomat, Stergomena Tax, with January Makamba, a veteran campaign strategist?

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“Three months later, it appears that the reason is electoral politics…To get there, she needs to provide a political cushion for Makamba, a ruling party star who is expected to take charge of her presidential bid.”


The magazine reported that Makamba’s reputation would have been damaged by the frequent power cuts had he stayed on in the Energy ministry, which would have handicapped him as a strategist for her election.

Despite such clear intentions, some still have doubts. There are two schools. One thinks Samia is not hungry enough for the job. The other is that the grandees of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), still a closely knit old boys club, and Magufuli loyalists who are chafing that she has sidelined them, will close ranks and foil her at the nomination.

One analyst said the view that Samia has no fire in her belly is very much a perspective of sections of the commentariat and political class in Dar es Salaam. Otherwise, he said, in places like Arusha, the city that is home to the East African Community headquarters, “there are signs everywhere that Suluhu not only wants the job but has got off the starting blocks” ahead of rivals.

“There are giant billboards of the president all over Arusha, and some other places,” he said.

He might have a point. Those are the ways of someone seeking the crown, not how politicians post farewell cards.

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Equally surprising is that Samia has not yet carved out a definitive image of herself. Though she took some Magufuli-era boots off the necks of journalists, eased some restrictions on the opposition, and doesn’t rail wildly against the independent media as her predecessor did, Tanzania is still not a journalism paradise. Sporadic arrests and harassment of journalists have continued under her watch.

Samia, they say, has not parked away the metal claws Magufuli deployed with deadly effect against journalists. She has only painted some bright nail polish on them.

Nevertheless, the Magufuli-era fear is noticeably absent. There is a more relaxed political air in Dar es Salaam. Samia released key opposition leaders from prison and reversed regressive policies, such as banning pregnant girls from school.

Some of her reforms also opened the economy to foreign investors. Compared to just four years ago, there are many more global brands in Dar es Salaam today. The tourists have rediscovered Tanzania and are swarming all over the place. The big breakfast hall at our hotel was teeming with peoples from all over the world and a large business delegation from the Gulf.

After the end of a late dinner at a mall on a Monday, near midnight, as we drove away from the parking lot still had many cars, and the place was crawling with young people in risqué dress indulging in sinful pleasures, in numbers that no one sees even in Nairobi.

Many economists and merchants see her as the most pro-business Tanzanian leader ever, and one of them told me he was “very optimistic about the future. Five to seven years with Suluhu and East Africa will only see our dust,” he said.

However, there is talk of corruption, involving relatives of the First Family. Additionally, hobbled by foreign exchange shortages, erratic supplies, and even a shortage of beer in the tourism magnet of Zanzibar, he sounded excessively exuberant.

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President Samia has also baulked at constitutional reforms demanded by the opposition for decades. They include a reform of electoral laws and the electoral commission, which would give it independence. Right now, the electoral body is little more than a crude election rigging machine for the executive and ruling party.

There is an infrastructure-building and rehabilitation frenzy in Dar es Salaam and other parts of Tanzania. Roadworks and flyovers are being erected. If the works don’t falter, Samia will have a good basket of shiny goods to run on.

In Tanzania’s ever-growing middle class, there is a large element of it which is more centrist in its politics and globalist in its world view. It has no political patron. It’s youthful, and a constituency no CCM faction has its wing. Potentially, they could be Samia voters, who is said to enjoy affection among them as a beloved grandmother figure.

Were Samia to take actions and political reforms – even limited ones – that position her as a centrist, she would rally them around her and lay claim to being a moderniser.

Dar es Salaam, however, is horribly humid and very hot these days. It can foul the mood, and ill-tempered patriarchs of the CCM still might just take it out on Samia. But, as Britain’s “Iron Lady” prime minister Margaret Thatcher once said, the lady's not for turning.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the "Wall of Great Africans". Twitter@cobbo3