President Samia Suluhu Hassan urged women to elect a woman president in the 2025 General Election. She said she is in power because of constitutional requirements and God’s will. She argued that without those, it would have been very difficult for a woman to make it to the apex of political power in the country. That despite the fact that women have played a huge role in this country’s history, from the time of local chiefs to the fight for political independence.
She also took issue with what she called ‘vijigazeti’-clearly a disparaging term-which claimed that she will not run for the presidency come 2025. The newspaper which claimed so is actually a newspaper owned by the ruling party itself! To a rapturous applause she posed a rhetorical question, “who told them?’”
These remarks were very interesting in many ways.
In 2015, CCM had two women out of three finalists in its presidential primary process. These two women are accomplished individuals in their own right. However, the reason they could not break the proverbial glass ceiling in 2015 had nothing to do with their gender and much to do with the political dynamics of 2015 where the party expected a revolt after that process was complete. Given those dynamics, the two women, without taking anything away from them, were political lightweights.
Former CCM chairperson, Jakaya Kikwete, speaking after CCM had picked Samia Suluhu Hassan, then a little-known minister in the vice president’s office as Dr John Magufuli’s running mate, he played the gender card as well and said she was Magufuli’s peer, and that after him there was no reason why she should not be the next president. Clearly, he meant under different circumstances but it has come to pass.
In the early 1990s as the country was preparing for its first General Election of the restored multiparty system, there were lengthy debates about the system which should be adopted on the presidential ticket. The current system which mirrors that of the American presidency did not come easy. So, yes, the current president is by virtue of constitutional arrangements but she was part of the ticket that was voted into office. She did not only campaign to sell her party’s election manifesto, she was in fact one of the leading individuals who would have to implement it once elected, and elected they were. Twice at that!
If not for “constitutional arrangements”, then how should countries with young democracies like ours be governed?
The president claimed the mantle of as the champion of women’s issues. She said, she is doing so because if not for her then no one else will do it. In rebuking the claims that she will not run for president in 2025, she had realised that by continuing to be evasive about the issue altogether, she was creating a dangerous political situation which could be easily exploited in a party known for its opaque party primary processes.
In embracing the role as the champion for women’s issues, linking her own rise to a long history of the role women have played in this country, she was acknowledging, among other things, the fact that in every single election in this country from the days of the one-party state era, women are dependable voters regardless of whether they are in urban or rural areas. The same cannot be said of men as voters.
This was also a president making a pitch to a constituency that would uniquely identify with her-to borrow a phrase from a popular television series- “in the wars to come”. Prior to her rise to the presidency, she had no defined constituency within her own political party or outside it. Now, she is creating a formidable cross-party constituency. However, for this to work, she will have to go beyond the labels and the statements, she will have to actually deliver on the many issues which confront women from unfair inheritance laws, to reducing their burden in search of water, to reducing early marriages for girls and many other issues which are very close to women regardless of their political stripes. Then, her constituency will be sold. Her credentials unquestionable. There is also the burden of their overwhelming majority in parliament. The promises have to be fulfilled, anything less and the opposition parties will have a long list to pick and choose as to why she and her party should be replaced.
Now that her political opponents know where she stands, they will be keeping tabs. From now to 2025 is actually an eternity in politics.