Dear Madam President Samia Suluhu Hassan, do you remember me? This is Mishy, a few years ago, I wrote you a very lovely note, I hope you had time to read it. Just like the last note, this note is from the place of LOVE and not hate.
Where should I start, Madam president? Possibly from the beginning!
So, the beginning!
I bet you know by now, most of us fall out of love with your predecessor. The 5th phase administration under the late John Magufuli, of which you were part, was not an ideal administration, and it was not what we expected or deserved. It was the administration that laid bare the worse and the ugly of our government institutions, including our law and the constitution. Things went haywire – for the lack of better words.
When rumours of Magufuli’s demise became louder, I was confused. The night you announced his passing I was on a Zoom call – yes, I was still working that late. I had to switch off my video camera because I could not resist my tears. My heart was heavy, truth be told, for so long I desired and dreamed of Tanzania having a female president, but I kind of accepted that might not happen during my time on this earth.
Knowing that you will be sworn in to become the sixth Head of State of Tanzania was very emotional to me. I should as well confess, that night, I was scared on your behalf. I was scared on behalf of all the people of this country. I would not have imagined in million years that the first female president will be sworn in under these circumstances when the country is deeply divided; when the politics are divisive and ugly and our institutions are on their knees, not to forget, the struggling economy battered by the global health pandemic of COVID-19 and bad economic policies and choices of 5th administration.
You were sworn in, and Alhamdulillah, the transition was smooth, peaceful, and monumental. The day you took the oath of office, I hugged my daughter so tight, telling her, she, as well, can be the President of the United Republic of Tanzania. We had biriani that day, chocolate cake and tons of juice!
It was a celebration of ‘breaking of the glass ceiling’ not only for you but for all of us. Importantly, it was a celebration of the ‘new dawn.’ The fresh beginning after six years of hopelessness. We were happy and excited for so many reasons. Judging by the tone and posts on social media, my feelings were shared by many – pictures of you in that red headscarf trended in Tanzania and beyond. You become Tanzania’s sixth president – Mama, people called you to express their affection..
The 100 days of your presidency were decorated with praises, a sense of relief and optimism. “Mama anaupiga Mwingi sana” those who support you said. I remember, every time I took to social media my dissatisfaction with your appointments of leaders and lack of gender parity, I was attacked left, right and centre.
Everyone was literally on your side. Madam President, you cannot imagine how many times I was tempted to write this blog, but I kept telling myself, “Mishy, have some patience! Let the president be the president.” And I am not a politician, so I chilled! But Madam, given what is currently happening in our country, I felt I’m demanded to send you this note.
The honeymoon is over
Clearly, the honeymoon for you and us is over. We are now back to our normal routines; everyone is doing what they do best, including members of the opposition.International media are busy covering latest development in Tanzania, are you happy with it?Madam President, I don’t qualify to give you leadership advice. I know nothing about politics and leading a country. Still, please hear me out.
It will be a national tragedy if you want all people to think alike. We are one nation, YES, but we are diverse, we have different belief systems, different value sets, different ideologies, different experiences and realities to name but few qualities that differentiate us as Tanzanians.
What seems like a priority to you might not necessarily be a priority to me. And you know what? That’s totally fine. I really don’t understand why people having different priorities should be treated as a crime. In fact, I’m actually afraid of people having the same priorities because the moment we all think alike and feel the same way, we will be a dead nation.
Diversity, therefore, is our strength, not weakness.
Madam President, for someone like me who unapologetically refers to herself as a gender activist, I desire your presidency to be epic. I for one believes you do not have to prove the quality of women leadership for more women to lead.
We have men who lead terribly, and it has never been pegged on the all-male gender. But deep down in our hearts, we all want that fresh start, a reasonable and sober leadership founded on the principles of equality, justice, and the rule of law.
Power corrupts, really
Madam president, power corrupts. This is particularly the case when it is tested. I have experienced this on a personal level. Over time, I have seen how ‘others’ assumed they can push me around either because I am nice or because I am ‘weak’ – often my kindness was mistaken for weakness.
The temptations of “showing them” how stronger and tougher I am, were at an all-time high. But I have never decided of showing anyone anything. “Highway is the only way and when they go low, we go high!” These are the words of the former U.S. First Lady Michele Obama that I constantly keep reminding myself of.
The use of excessive power should not be associated with your presidency, Madam President. Tanzania needs peace and harmony. Tanzanians’ wounds are still fresh. Their souls are yet to heal. If anything, we expected you to lead us to the national healing process, and not more detentions!
In light of the reports we hear, I am afraid, Madam President, you are creating an environment that will distract you from achieving what you had planned. You know quite well, politicians’ job is to do politics. You do not expect Tanzania’s opposition politicians to be your cheerleaders, do you? Then if that is the case, why should it bother the presidency seeing them doing politics?
Here is what I think in my own naïvity. While the opposition organizes and mobilizes itself to demand constitutional reforms, the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and your government should be busy mobilizing communities to rebuild the economy – because you said that is your top priority.
At the end of the day, if you think about it, citizens would decide which causes between the two makes more sense to them and relate with their day-to-day lives. In fact, that’s the definition of democracy for beginners. Or are you afraid that citizens will be on the opposition’s side?
Be it as it may, the ongoing actions against members of Tanzania’s political opposition show that CCM is tired of multiparty politics. Why can’t your administration organizes a referendum and settle this debate once and for all? Think about it.
A need for a dream team
Madam presidency, the effectiveness of your presidency is dependent on your team and in light of what is happening, I think you may need to have a reshuffle. Tanzania is blessed with the best passionate folks and revered leaders who can lead our country to a Tanzania we all deserve. Retaining and/or recycling your team suggests your approval to what they do, or you are not ready for transformative changes.
Also, communication is not just about ‘broadcasting’ only. This means that your press office should not just comprise journalists but sociologists, political strategists, psychologists to name but a few.
Your dream team should be able to advise you on what to communicate, how to communicate, who you should communicate to and with and in what tone and style. The words of the Head of State matter and you need a team that understands this because some controversies can be avoided only if we take communication and messaging seriously.
I’d like to close this note with a personal request. Madam President, can Tanzania have an independent gender equality ministry? A couple of years ago, our sisters and comrades went to Beijing and agreed to establish an institutional mechanism that would advance gender equality in this country.
Tanzania decided to establish that mechanism in the form of a ministry that existed until Maagufuli decided to merge it with the ministry of health – terrible decision ever. I’d request that we have that ministry back.
And last but not least kindly free all political detainees.
Mwanahamisi Singano is a seasoned development expert and African feminist. She can be reached through her e-mail address email@example.com or on Twitter @MSalimu. 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 editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.