Why Samia’s Vatican Visit Matters

With few months before the civic election and the 2025 general election, a conversation between the Pope and the Tanzania President is a great political achievement for President Samia

In her black hijab and a gold coat with black print that fusion a blend of African Kitenge and Western-style long coat, President Samia is seen smiling with the Pope who is in his usual white robe.

This image in itself speaks a thousand words, to the world or at least to about 10 million Catholics who reside in Tanzania.

The Holy See Press Office reports that President Samia met with the Holy Father Francis on February 12, 2024, and subsequently met with His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations.

It’s reported that President Samia and Pope Francis had a conversation about the church’s role in the provision of social services in Tanzania, challenges faced by Tanzania, and the exchange of views on the regional situation and current international events, with the two agreeing on the ever-greater commitment to the promotion of peace.

Started in 1868, the Catholic church is the oldest in the country. In education, the church has about 240 pre-primary schools, 147 primary schools, 245 secondary schools, 110 vocational training, 13 teachers training colleges, and four universities.

In the health sector, the church has about 328 dispensaries, 52 Health Centers, 14 Designated District Hospitals (DDH), and 29 Voluntary Agency Hospitals (VA). The provision of social services is one of President Samia’s flagship policy areas, meaning any discussion around this area re-affirms her policies.

It is worth to mention Samia’s trip comes a year since the Pope visited DRC Congo and South Sudan. In DRC Congo the Pope made a staunch speech telling the world’s powerful ‘hands-off Africa’.

Understanding that President Samia is sympathetic to the Congo struggle, it’s expected that the Congo issue is one of the items that was raised in the regional issues discussion to solidify global support for the DRC Congo plea.

On November 24, 2022, President Samia emphasized that DRC’s destiny is tied to the rest of East African Community countries. President Samia has made true to her word, that Tanzania is currently active in DRC under the SADC forces.

Another issue that is worth mentioning in this trip is a disagreement between the government and the Catholic church that emanated in August 2023.

On August 18, 2023, Catholic Bishops in the country issued a critical statement against the Tanzania-Dubai port agreement, an agreement which set the ground for the Dubai firm DP World to operate, and develop Tanzania ports.

The statement which equated the deal with selling off Tanzania ports was read in thousands of Catholic churches across the country, reaching millions.

While this was not the first instance, this was one of the rare moments in recent times where the church had tension with the government. Even when the government proceeded with the deal, Catholic clergies complained that they were tricked into attending the signing ceremony.

With few months before the civic election and the 2025 general election, a conversation between the Pope and the Tanzania President is a great political achievement for President Samia, especially because Catholics are one of the most organized voting blocks in the country.

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