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Profile on Tanzania’s first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan

Last year on March 19, Tanzania joined the cohort of African countries with female leaders with the swearing-in of Samia Suluhu Hassan, a Muslim Tanzanian woman, as head of state. She is also widely referred to as Mama Samia in the country. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “As the country’s former vice president, Hassan became the constitutionally mandated successor of late president John Magufuli after he allegedly died from COVID-19 in early March 2021.”

In her interview in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, President Hassan talked about the challenges of assuming the role of president in the country. “Most of the people couldn’t believe that we can have a woman president and she can deliver. The challenge was to create a trust in the people that yes, I can do it,” President Hassan stated, as reported by The New York Times. 

President Hassan has also taken measures to make leadership in Tanzania more accessible to women. According to The Conversation, “Nine of her cabinet ministers are women, which represents 36 percent, a six percentage point rise from the previous cabinet.”

Sarah Chohan, a first-year from Tanzania shared her happiness and echoed the same idea of the challenges women face. “I’m a Muslim Tanzanian woman, and it’s nice to see the representation, especially as a president. Right now, things are getting better as people are getting educated. But there’s still a lot of backward mindset. Tanzania is still quite, I’d say, conservative. So, I’m not going to lie we didn’t see this coming, getting a Muslim president woman especially.”

In the same vein, Vanessa Dickson, a first-year from Tanzania also spoke about the double standards for women. She said, “As a woman, you have to do double the work than what the man does to show that you’re capable of delivering the tasks. And I think for the longest time, the majority of the people didn’t believe that a woman could lead. By Mama Samia now being the person who is leading us as a nation, it’s proving that women can actually lead, and they’re capable of doing it. There is hope for the rest of the women in Tanzania because they have someone that they can look up to.”

Since she took over the role of head of state, President Hassan has embraced the international community. Not only has she visited other countries such as the United States, but she has invited many leaders to Tanzania. “President Hassan has made many international visits and welcomed high-level foreign dignitaries to Tanzania. They include former British prime minister Tony Blair, World Bank managing director Mari Pangestu and African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina,” as reported by The Conversation.

Chohan and Dickson both emphasized the improvements President Hassan has made for the tourism industry in Tanzania. 

Chohan stated, “Mama Samia is definitely opening up Tanzania to the world, especially with her recent trips to the U.S. and meeting with Kamala Harris. She’s representing Tanzania really well, and I think I appreciate that. She’s advertising tourism in Tanzania, which I think is great because we do have amazing things, so she’s trying to put Tanzania on the international map.”

Dickson emphasized how much improvement President Hassan has done for the country regarding the tourism industry. She stated, “Personally, I really love [her]. I love what she’s doing for the nation, and one of the things that I really like that she’s doing is within the tourism industry. One of the things she had talked about in LA … she said that many people when you meet them and you tell them where you’re from, they don’t know it. They’re like, ‘where’s that?’ Now, she’s made this new film called Tanzania: The Royal Tour. It’s a way to promote tourism in the nation and people are able to see Tanzania for what it is.” 

President Hassan met with Vice President Kamala Harris on April 15, 2022, in Washington. During her meeting with Harris, she announced the “Royal Tour program … to showcase Tanzania’s touristic and investment potentials,” according to the White House. 

“On April 18th, I attended the premiere of Tanzania: The Royal Tour documentary in New York. The one-hour documentary shot in Tanzania will promote our country’s unique and unrivaled tourism attractions and investment opportunities to a global audience,” according to President Hassan’s Twitter post.

This meeting with Harris also yielded “the investment of nearly $1 billion from American companies in Tanzania’s tourism and energy sectors,” as reported by VOA News.

In addition to her actions regarding Tourism, Chohan also shed light on how she handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chohan stated, “Mama Samia is accepting that vaccinations are out there and we need to get them and they’re necessary, and she believes in the science of it. So, and I believe in the science of vaccinations too, so I guess I agree with her. Tanzanians, for the most part, were very hesitant, and they were resisting the vaccinations and so I think her openly taking the vaccinations was more of showing support that, like, ‘I’m also with you guys.’ You know, ‘I’m also taking it. We’re all in this together’ kind of thing. And I think that was like a really good initiative from her because there was also the mentality of, like, what are they putting in these vaccinations and you know, [it was] really early and they [didn’t] believe in the science of it.”

President Hassan’s handling of the COVID pandemic and the vaccine resistance in the country has been proactive. She publicly received her vaccine dose to encourage the citizens to also get vaccinated. According to CSIS, “As of March 2022, approximately 4.5 percent of Tanzanians are vaccinated against Covid-19. This is impressive given Tanzania’s late start to Covid-19 precautions as well as the pervasive public resistance toward the vaccine.”

Dickson stated, “We’re building relationships with various countries, which is a good thing because it helps both economies and the people of both nations.”

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Cynthia Akanaga

Mt Holyoke '25

Cynthia Akanaga is a first-year at Mount Holyoke College. Coming from a diverse country, Nigeria in West Africa, she's excited to experience a new culture, food, and people in the United States! She is excited to write about her personal experiences and share her knowledge of self-love/mental health. When not writing or in class, Cynthia can be found feeding her adrenaline/fitness addiction by hiking, running, rock climbing, and of course rollercoasters.
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