Tanzania President Samia: We're here to show that women can lead

  • Published
President Samia SuluhuImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in five months ago

Tanzania's president has said there were people who doubted she was qualified to lead when she first became head of state because she was a woman.

Some "don't believe that women can be better presidents and we are here to show them," Samia Suluhu Hassan told the BBC.

In March, the 61-year-old was sworn in after her predecessor died in office.

She is currently Africa's only female political head of state. The Ethiopian presidency is a ceremonial role.

"Even some of my government workers dismissed me at first as just another woman, but they soon accepted my leadership," Ms Samia said.

"But this is not just in Africa, even in America, [Hillary] Clinton reached a place where we thought she was going to be the president but she couldn't," she added.

Ms Samia, who was promoted from the the vice-presidency, advised that focusing on implementing development plans and prioritising people's needs was the best way to deal with critics.

She added that despite challenges, other countries could learn from Liberia and Central African Republic who have had female leaders.

President Samia replaced John Magufuli who died from heart complications, she announced at the time.

Magufuli was accused of cracking down on dissent and curtailing certain freedoms. His replacement was seen as someone who would bring a different tone to leadership.

But the recent arrest of main opposition leader Freeman Mbowe on terrorism-related charges, has led some to wonder if President Samia is continuing the policies of her predecessor.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Freeman Mbowe had been a critic of the the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli

However, the Tanzanian leader defended the move saying Mr Mbowe's charges were "not political" because he had been under investigation since September last year.

"He was out of the country for a long time. I don't know why he fled but when he returned he started creating trouble with calls for a new constitution.

"I suspect that, knowing the charges he was facing, he calculated that if he was arrested he could claim that it was because he was pushing for a new constitution," the president said.

Mr Mbowe was detained after he had said the last election was fraudulent.

President Samia said she would "leave to the courts to decide if he's guilty or not guilty. .

The Tanzanian leader also said she was ready to meet with opposition members and other stakeholders to discuss changes to the constitution "when the time is right" but she did not commit to when that would happen.

Critics say the country's independence constitution favours the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
President Samia changed Tanzania's Covid-sceptic policy

The president has taken a different approach to the pandemic than Magufuli, who was a well-known Covid sceptic.

Ms Samia said that there was an ongoing public campaign to increase vaccination uptake. The president said that she decided to get the jab publicly to reassure those who were worried about its safety.

"But my main worry now is not vaccine hesitancy but availability of vaccines, we have received donations from the US and acquired some from Covax facilities, but they will soon run out," Ms Samia told the BBC.

The change in policy has been widely welcomed, because her predecessor sowed doubt about the existence of the pandemic and rejected measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. Instead he asked people to pray and use steam inhalation.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Tanzanians have been using social media to criticise government policies

President Samia also defended her government on claims that she has continued to enforce laws that limit media freedom.

She said journalists "were free to work as long as they followed the country's laws".

She also said that she listens to criticism on social media by opposition members and activists adding that she has got used to it, but "it helps us know what people are thinking, if we ban it we won't have that platform".