A quote by North Nkasi MP (CHADEMA) Aida Khenan that went viral on social media in the past week captures well people’s feelings on the high cost of living caused in part by the skyrocketing fuel prices.
While debating the motion over high fuel prices tabled in the parliament last week Ms Khenan chided the government for using the Ukraine war as an excuse for failing to act on the rising cost of living.
“There are no simple answers to complex questions,” the lawmaker remarked. “When you are given an opportunity to lead you are not meant to go through good times only. This is the time to measure your capacity to lead the nation. It’s true there is war but show us your leadership capacity.”
As the debate over the rising cost of living in Tanzania rages Tanzanians ask about the whereabouts of President Samia Hassan Suluhu. Many feel that the Head of State has failed to provide the leadership required to lift her compatriots from the ongoing crisis.
When the fuel prices crossed the Sh3,000 mark on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, the number three in the succession lineup, convened an emergency meeting with some cabinet ministers and senior government officials responsible for energy, finance and policy co-ordination.
This left many wondering whether it wasn’t time for President Samia to show up and lead from the front. Her silence was made even more deafening taking by the fact that she had just returned from a record 15-day foreign tour to the United States.
It’s obvious that the ‘fuel crisis’ has not only exposed the government’s failures to ensure Tanzania’s energy security and revealed a lack of preparedness for such an eventuality.
The fuel crisis continues to show how Tanzania has remained idle and totally failed to take advantage of its huge natural gas reserves (60 trillion cubic feet) to reduce reliance on petroleum fuel to power its vehicles and industries.
While plans and strategies to cushion Tanzania against volatility in global fuel prices should have been taken decades ago it now falls on President Samia to take the blame and rectify the situation.
Last week Minister for Energy January Makamba expounded on short term and long term plans that the government has crafted to deal with the fuel issue, which includes creating oil reserves.
President Samia’s position has been made more tenacious by controversial pronouncements that have shown the possibility that she could be out of touch with reality on the ground.
Her most recent claim that a litre of petrol in the US is more expensive than in Tanzania put many people off due to obvious differences in the average purchasing power between Americans and Tanzanians.
On March 8, Samia warned that commodity prices would keep increasing because of the Ukraine war and the pandemic. Even as she stated the obvious her government failed to make public a plan that they had to reduce the inflation, which disappointed many.
Government in disarray
The functioning of the government gives a strong impression of disarray. There is no sense of unison in each department. Coordination in public communication and messaging is poor and the government spokesperson seems redundant.
While some ministers and officials have been more careful with their messaging on the high commodity prices others have been a bit reckless as they deflect people’s concerns with simple arguments and counter-accusations to critics.
The flip-flopping on the Sh100 fuel levy also points to a lack of coordination within the government. On February 28, the government scrapped Sh100 per litre of fuel for three months to bring relief to motorists.
But on March 30, just about a month after the scrapping of the fee, President Samia announced that the Sh100 would be reverted because, she said, “the minister acted alone in scrapping the levy.”
Even within the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), there is an indication that not everyone is reading from the same script. CCM vice-chairperson Abdulrahaman Kinana announced on April 11 that the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) would summon ministers to discuss strategies to cushion high commodity prices.
The meeting has not materialized to date as the public’s cries for the high cost of living grow louder and louder. The impression of the disarray might be augmented by President Samia’s hands-off approach to governing as compared to her predecessor’s hands-on approach.
Implications on 2025
The government’s failure to tame runaway inflation seems to have started eroding President Samia’s popularity and support from even those constituencies that cheered her on as she set to reverse democratic losses occasioned by her predecessor.
The waning support could curtail the backing of the public on her efforts to open up the economy to foreign investments.
But the high cost of living also threatens President Samia’s political capital at a time when she needs it most to reposition for 2025. In the next elections, President Samia can’t rely too much on the advantage of incumbency because she was directly elected in the past polls.
What poses the biggest threat to her future electoral victory, however, is not the high cost itself but her controversial statements.
The issue is that she is yet to prove that she is a woman of action, the yardstick that had been set by her predecessor, the late John Magufuli. In the same context the political reforms that she sought to undertake after assuming office look rhetorical despite the ‘democratic’ credential that she seems to have started building outside the country.
President Samia’s options
President Samia should focus on the politics of the whole cost of living crisis.
She could start by putting her house in order first by reconstructing her close team in terms of aides and advisers to ensure that she is properly advised and helped to manage the day to day governance of the country in a manner that will show that she is hands-on.
Samia also can come up with a ‘revolutionary’ national budget in June that will convince people that she can make hard decisions. She can also ensure the general public that her government is aligned in the messaging with herself taking a leading position in communicating to the public.
Countrywide tours could help in this case as I suggested in a previous article on this platform. The current economic crisis also compels President Samia to walk the talk on impending political reforms and show some progress amidst the high cost of living.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. His Twitter handle is #DKanyabwoya. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.