When President Samia Suluhu Hassan came into office nearly two years ago, Tanzania was on a completely different trajectory.
President Samia has since presided over a raft of reforms that have changed the direction the country was taking under her predecessor, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, who died in office on March 17, 2021.
Samia was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president on March 19, 2021, when the nation was still mourning the death of Magufuli — who was nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style.
Magufuli and Samia — who was then vice president — were re-elected in the October 2020 general election, which was fiercely disputed by the main opposition party Chadema.
After she was sworn in, President Samia declared 14 days of national mourning and called for unity among Tanzanians.
Building a new Tanzania
“This is the time to stand together and be united. It’s time to bury our differences, promote love among us and look into the future with confidence.
“This isn’t the time to start pointing accusing fingers at one other. We should hold hands and move forward in building a new Tanzania that President Magufuli endeavoured to build,” she added.
However, two years down the road, Tanzania has made a clean break with Magufuli’s mostly hard-line policies in various spheres.
The first major test President Samia faced was the raging Covid-19 pandemic, which Magufuli had dismissed as a hoax.
Magufuli scoffed at proven Covid protocols and even refused to allow vaccines into the country. At one point, he declared that the virus had been eradicated from Tanzania by prayer.
However, President Samia, then in office for only a few weeks, appointed a committee of experts to advise her on the way forward and propose measures to keep Tanzanians safe.
Not surprisingly, the team’s proposals included the resumption of regular publication of Covid data, some 13 months after the government last released statistics on the disease.
President Samia also appeared in public wearing a facemask and encouraged Tanzanians to do so to protect themselves and others, something her predecessor had never done.
She also allowed the entry of Covid-19 vaccines, which Magufuli had warned were “very dangerous”. The Head of State made it clear that people would not be forced to accept vaccination. President Samia also pledged that Tanzania would be guided solely by science in its war on Covid-19.
In November 2021, the government announced that teen mothers would be allowed to continue with their studies, reversing a policy that had been unilaterally imposed by Magufuli.
In 2017, Magufuli banned public schools from taking back schoolgirls who had dropped out after becoming pregnant.
“I provide money so that students can study free of charge, but you find a schoolgirl getting pregnant, giving birth and returning to school. That will never happen under my watch,” he said.
The decision was widely condemned by development partners and human rights campaigners.
The World Bank suspended a $300 million loan for girls’ education following Magufuli’s ban.
Reached out to opposition
A few weeks after her swearing-in, President Samia reached out to the opposition, vowing to defend democracy and basic freedoms.
In April 2021, she directed that the indefinite ban slapped on a number of media outlets by the previous administration be lifted.
“I’m told that you revoked the licences of some media outlets, including online television stations. You should lift the ban, but advise them to follow the law and relevant guidelines. Let’s not give them an opportunity to say that we are limiting press freedom,” she added.
Last year saw another milestone in the information sector with the resumption of live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions in Dodoma, which were stopped six years earlier.
National Assembly clerk Nenelwa Mwihambi, who announced the resumption of the live broadcasts, popularly known as “Bunge Live”, said they would begin afresh following renovation of Parliament’s studio and approval by the steering committee.
The government pulled the plug on live broadcasts in 2016, citing “high operating costs” and the need for people to concentrate on their work instead of watching what was going on in Parliament.
Reforming justice system
President Samia is currently focusing on reforming the justice system and has already appointed a team to review the institutions responsible for justice.
The team will investigate, among other things, the performance of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), Police Force, Judiciary, Drug Control and Enforcement Agency, as well as Tanzania Prisons Service.
These are some of the state institutions that are frequently at the receiving end of criticism and complaints from the public.
Despite these reforms, there are still pending issues that the opposition and activists think President Samia needs to act on to further improve human rights and other basic freedoms.
These include a new constitution and an independent electoral commission.