President Samia Can Ignore New Constitution At Her Peril

She can be a heroine who healed and brought light to the nation or she can take the iron fist road, creating enemies and stifling opponents clamouring for constitutional changes.

By all political calculations, the presidency of Samia Suluhu Hassan would never have come through her Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s (CCM) nomination.  The untimely demise of a seating president paved way for her current status. From the party’s hierarchy and power brokers, President Samia was out of favour and wielded less influence amongst the ruling party’s bigwigs. Her nomination as the running mate to the late Tanzanian leader John Magufuli was a political calculation by the ruling party.

It was first and foremost aimed to strike a delicate balance that meets a constitutional threshold of inclusivity. Samia was brought into the fold as a running mate from Zanzibar to strengthen the main candidate from Tanzania’s mainland in Magufuli. Secondly, was for her to bring in the women vote across Tanzania and attract Zanzibaris to vote for the ruling party. In addition, it was also to bring in the Islamic votes and present a picture-perfect representation of cohesion and power distribution across the two main religious functions in the country. She was, therefore, much more of a kingmaker rather than royalty in waiting.

After the untimely demise of President Magufuli, constitutional powers thrust President Hassan, the second in command, to the presidency on March 19, 2021. From the herculean task of announcing the demise of her boss to ascendency to the highest office, the unexpected had happened. Samia Suluhu Hassan became the first female president of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Her ascendency into power was one that was received with mixed feelings across the political divide. Many thoughts, will she be capable of marshalling the necessary support to rule the country? Her predecessor had been dubbed the ‘bulldozer’ and sought to intimidate and cajole political opponents, essentially creating a populist political demagogue who was adored by the masses. Since taking over the reins, President Samia has received support and praise for the fundamental changes that she has taken. Her reference as “Mama Samia” connotes more than her role as the incumbent commander-in-chief.

A symbol of care and affection

To many, President Samia symbolizes the care and affection necessary for the country to heal. Of utmost importance is her problem-solving abilities as she vividly indicated during a recent speech to the Tanzanian-Kenyan business community while on her first official visit to neighbouring Kenya. She is indeed the ‘suluhu,’ which is literally translating to the solution for what seemed to be Magufuli’s ‘savagery’ era of running the country with somewhat of an iron fist.

President Samia’s acknowledgement of COVID-19 in Tanzania brings a sharp U-turn from her predecessor’s hard tackling tactics and denial as well as failure to address the pandemic. In addition, unprecedented changes in judicial proceedings allowing for procedural and fair judgement for accused individuals evidently position President Samia as the ideal solution. Her focus on resuming a conducive investment environment has seen the likes of Dangote reignite their investment portfolios in Tanzania.

The unexpected ascension to power amidst discontent from different quarters begs the question, what will her presidency produce? Just like the US President Lyndon B. Johnson whose presidency was clouded by the assassination of President John Kennedy, Samia’s presidency is overshadowed by the sudden demise of President John Magufuli. President Johnson knew of his unpopularity and his slim chances to retain the presidency in subsequent elections in 1964. However, his astute political strategy was to lean onto Kennedy’s popular policies still available to their administration and translate them into personal political agenda.

Many political pundits and commentaries posit that President Johnson’s win in the 1964 election was largely attributed to the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1964, in addition to other Kennedy’s borrowed policies. Not only did Johnson wage a war against poverty, but he also managed to pass a law that guarantees equal treatment of all Americans regardless of their race, colour, religion, national origin, sex, and later sexual orientation and gender identity. Though President Johnson did not run for a second term in office, he goes down as one of the progressive presidents that America had in the twentieth century.

Heroine or loser

For President Samia to cement her legacy, she has two ways to become the ultimate ‘suluhu’ to the Tanzanian discontent. She can be a heroine and a ‘mama’ who healed and brought light to the nation through dark days and whose name will be written next to the founding father of independent Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Or, she can also dare to take the iron fist road, creating enemies and stifling opponents clamouring for constitutional changes to deny Tanzanians the chance to reconfigure their affairs.

The recent statement by President Samia, that the constitutional changes should wait, as she is focusing on revamping the economy, has been a painful nail to the coffin that has already been nailed a lot. Tanzanians still have wounds from the Magufuli era, where citizens’ democratic engagement in their country’s affairs was bulldozed in the name of building the economy. Economic development goes together with upholding inalienable rights and democratic governance that the current constitution seems to not safeguard enough.

The constitution is the holy script of a country. The polity members should write it at any time they deemed so. No one under any jurisdiction has the power over the country’s holy script other than the people themselves.

Some analysts argue that her statement has started to shed light on the first well-crafted idea of her presidency. The ‘mama’ status and symbolic effect of care and love for the land of her ancestors seems to be drifting from her central concern. However, We, the people, decide, and not the party; we, the people, writes the history, not in writings, but in our hearts; we, the people, pass over history to successive generations, not through institutions, but by words of our mouth.

I am not in the position to advise the President. However, whether President Samia gets elected or loses the 2025 election, if she wants her name next to Baba wa Taifa, and go down the history, where the coming generations will be singing her name, she should pursue the popular way as far as the issue of New Constitution is concerned: Give Tanzanians the constitution they want and deserve now, before it’s too late.

Samwel Moses Ntapanta is a PhD candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oslo. He can be reached through his e-mail address s.m.ntapanta@sai.uio.no or through Twitter at @Fundi_Ntapanta. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editor at editor@thechanzo.com for inquiries.

Samwel Moses Ntapanta

2 comments

  • Ras

    13 July 2021 at 2:32 PM

    👏👏👏100% very true !

    Reply

  • Mimi Mwenyewe

    14 July 2021 at 8:03 AM

    Touchè! What is there to make of circulating about the barefoot former schoolboy from Msoga running the show from Msoga?

    Reply

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