An old Swahili proverb states, ‘Hata kiporo ni ugali’ – Even yesterday’s ugali, is still ugali”. While the legacy of John Pombe Magufuli might have been tainted by his Covid-19 denialism, there is still something left that president Samia Suluhu can build upon.
Suluhu is faced with the serious Covid-19 pandemic.She needs to engage the international community’s effort in fighting this global epidemic because regionally and globally, Tanzania has been dragging its feet. For starters, Tanzania needs to begin to openly collect and share data on the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the country.
Secondly, Suluhu needs to confront the threat of terrorism at Tanzania’s Southern border with Mozambique at Cabo Delgado. An ISIS allied group locals in Mozambique call (Al Shabaab – unrelated to the Somalia group) is reigning terror on Mozambicans. The spillover effects of this terrorism are disrupting life in the border areas of Tanzania.
Suluhu has to use the frameworks of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to find a regional solution to this instability that is spilling over into Tanzania. Therefore, confronting the terror threat at the southern border is her second big task.
Thirdly, Samia needs to “pivot East” and embrace the East African Community (EAC) as she maintains relations with SADC. Her predecessor advanced a “Tanzania First” policy that seemed eerily like a unilateralist “Make Tanzania Great Again – ”. Magufuli’s foreign policy agenda seemed centered on replacing Kenya as the regional economic hub by challenging Kenya’s leadership of the EAC, Kenya’s domination of regional import infrastructure in roads, airports, railways, and maritime ports.
Magufuli developed rival infrastructure networks in the oil pipeline with Uganda, to take away a deal Uganda was poised to sign with Kenya when a regionally complimentary network would have served East Africa better. He revived Air Tanzania at a point in time when national airlines are a disastrous loss-making effort. Suluhu will need to find a way to have Tanzania work with its neighbors in East Africa through complementary frameworks rather than competitive paradigms that play to a nationalist narrative with little economic raison d’etre. The whole East African region needs grow faster together, rather than each country advancing its interests.
Lastly, Suluhu needs to expand the democratic space. She should allow Zanzibar to have a national plebiscite to determine its future. She should also welcome opposition voices of dissent like Tundu Lissu and Godbless Lema that were hounded into exile.
True democracy only thrives when there is a strong government that also allows free, vibrant, and open political playing field for the opposition. Opposition to the government keeps the ruling party in check and provides alternative viewpoints on national policy. The Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which has been in power since independence, sees dominance of government in Dodoma as its birthright. Suluhu has a chance to change this.
She can make CCM more accountable to the people of Tanzania and to the CCM party members themselves. If she is able to address the public health conundrum, address the terrorist threat to national security and fix bottlenecks to regional trade, Tanzania will be opening a new chapter that will make Tanzania work. “Hata kiporo ni Ugali – all is not lost”.
Prof David Monda,