President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been quite busy in her first year in office trying to restore the country’s economy and politics. The fact that she was thrust suddenly onto the highest office in the land following the death of Dr John Magufuli made it more difficult.
As she has repeatedly said she didn’t expect she would be the President of Tanzania so soon. It came suddenly and as a surprise. She had to parachute into action. That would have been easier had the country been in a good situation. Not so. The country was in a very precarious situation politically and economically.
Worst still, the economic woes were not confined to Tanzania. The COVID-19 pandemic had devastated the whole global economy, complicating things further.
Politically the country was in a dangerous downward spiral. It is commendable that she felt she had to do something to change the situation. She, also, has had to travel frequently overseas as part of efforts to de-isolate the country after the five years of self-isolation under President Magufuli.
President Samia’s accomplishments in the first year in office are laudable. They, understandably, took much of her time.
But it’s high time she started talking more to the people. One of the most important tasks of a president in a democratic country like Tanzania is to talk to the people; encourage them; comfort them whenever necessary; to explain to them what the government is currently doing to make their lives better; why it’s doing it the way it does; and so forth.
President Samia might think that the people ‘see’ for themselves what she is doing for them. It’s true that they see it. But she needs to explain it to them, too. She can’t let this task fall solely on her assistants. Talking to the people helps establish rapport between her as the ‘first citizen’ and the people she leads.
It also helps prepare the people psychologically to face hard times such as the current runaway inflation that has sent commodity prices skyrocketing. Usually, when the people see that their president is making an effort to communicate with them directly and consistently they feel valued.
They feel the president cares about their concerns and issues. Presidents who did the task of the Explainer-In-Chief unsatisfactorily lived to regret it.
As he was nearing his re-election in 2012 US President Barack Obama had this to say about some of the failures of his first term in office: “When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term – a couple of years – was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
It’s not that President Samia has not been talking to the people. She has. But she should talk more.
How Samia can communicate to the people
Each President has his or her own way of talking to the people. President Benjamin Mkapa addressed the nation on radio and television at the end of each month. His successor, President Jakaya Kikwete, continued that tradition. But as I wrote in 2016, President Julius Nyerere had, in my view, the best method of talking to, and with, the people.
His background as a teacher might have helped him perfect the function of communicator-in-chief. He delivered live radio addresses; he talked to the nation through Dar es Salaam or Dodoma elders, or through rallies at the Jangwani grounds or Lumumba Street.
But President Nyerere also toured the country extensively, going deep into the interior, addressing villagers as he mobilized the people for nation-building activities.
President Samia would have to formulate her own strategy of talking to the public which should include conducting extensive tours of the country. This would enable her to talk to the people up close.
These tours could be characterized as familiarization tours, which will help her get to know the country real well from a presidential perspective.
The countrywide tours will also enable her to gauge the performance of her appointees in the regions and districts and take action against underperformers. The tours will also give her an opportunity to listen to people’s concerns and see people’s problems. This might assist her to avoid sounding out of touch.
President Samia should not make the mistake of waiting till 2025 to start touring the country. She would have missed the opportunity to effectively connect with the electorate.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.