Why the rise of Samia Suluhu Hassan is important for women in Tanzania and Africa

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The future is female, women are rising and getting into leadership positions. The death of John Magufuli, the immediate past president of the East African republic of Tanzania created a constitutional vacuum that was immediately filled by the swearing-in of Samia Suluhu Hassan as Tanzania’s president at the State House in Dar es Salaam on 19th March. She made history as the first woman to become president of the country.

Samia Suluhu Hassan is 61 years old and is affectionately known as Mama Samia. The presidency of African nations has always been the exclusive preserve of male politicians as only a few countries have elected female presidents. And even the few countries with female presidents had their female leaders emerging circumstantially. Today, the spotlight is now on Samia Suluhu Hassan as she begins her presidency. Being a woman, it is expected that her every action will receive intense scrutiny.

One can imagine the state of mind she was in as she announced the death of the President and also on the day she was inaugurated as the new president. It must have been conflicting emotions of sorrow at the death of her boss and happiness at reaching a milestone.

In her first public address as president, Suluhu Hassan said it was a difficult day in her political career. This is understandable. She is expected to unite the county of Tanzania and chart a new course and direction for the nation. With her years of experience as a politician, I am hopeful that she would do a great job.

Samia Suluhu Hassan has had a steady rise in Tanzanian politics. She started her political journey in the year 2000 when she got elected into the Zanzibar House of Representatives and was appointed a minister and became the only high ranking female minister in the cabinet. Samia’s life is a testament to the importance of education and female empowerment in Africa. Samia attended school at a time when very few Tanzanian girls were offered the opportunity of education outside the traditional roles of wife and homemaker. She kept rising, occupying various political offices and in 2015 was selected by Magufuli as his running mate. Her selection was a surprise because there were many more prominent members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

Samia Suluhu Hassan emergence is also significant because she is a practising Muslim, 61% of Tanzanians are Christians. Also, she is from Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island that is in a political union with Tanzania. So Samia is an outlier, being a woman, a Muslim, and from a minority part of Tanzania. Her story is really inspiring for women.

She is expected to adopt a new leadership style away from the brash confrontational style of the late president. She is said to be a follower of rules and a peacemaker and has a sense of humour. The world is in dire need of peacemakers like her. She also has a touch of humanity in her. In 2017, opposition leader Tundu Lissu was hospitalized in a Nairobi hospital after escaping an assassination attempt that many speculated was carried out by state forces, Samia Suluhu Hassan visited him and pictures of their meeting made headlines across Tanzania and caused a stir amongst CCM party members.

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