THE nation is in mourning. We’ve never lost a sitting president before, hence the feeling of uncertainty along with the grief. That is, until the new President was sworn in, writes Sakina Zainul Datoo.
Maybe I’m just being emotional as I don’t really know what kind of president our new President Samia Suluhu Hassan is going to be. But I’m not ashamed to confess that I shed a few tears watching the first female president of Tanzania taking the oath of office.
These are tears of joy. Tears of disbelief and tears of hope. As a woman journalist who has worked in Tanzania at the highest level of journalism, I can confess that it’s not always easy to break through gender barriers to get to the top. And for a woman who looks like me, covered modestly all the time, openly confessing her faith, there are some serious challenges on the path to the top.
Of course, I know without doubt that Mama Samia would have never been elected to the post. Much as Tanzania honours its women well, we do have genuine struggles when it comes to a woman commanding leadership at the highest level. While there are very strong and very capable women in various leadership positons in Tanzania, we are used to looking down upon our women politicians, because many of them are appointed instead of elected. And there’s a good reason for that. Few women can stomach the negativity of election campaigns. Even when they do, it often leaves scars on them.
And if I’m honest, few women politicians in Tanzania have in the past blinded us with their dazzling performances in politics. But this does not mean women are less capable of holding high office. Perhaps, the time has now come to showcase a woman’s hand in guiding the nation towards greatness through a strong yet gentle leadership.
For me, this momentous occasion certainly seems to be an almost divine intervention – God showing us mercy through the caring and loving hands of a mother figure to move us forward towards not just more progress, but a kinder Tanzania for all.
Despite my optimism and hope, I have serious fears too. My fears are of being let down by someone I’m putting on a high pedestal. Fear of all Muslim women being judged by how Madam President holds her reign. So here is my unsolicited two cents worth of advice, Madam President.
The job ahead is tough with many pitfalls. You need to be strong, but also humble. God can change a position of a person or nation anytime, within seconds. Whatever strength and privilege we humans have, they are a gift from the divine. Let not those privileges become the source of someone’s suffering and oppression. Real strength comes with humanity and humility.
Press freedom and democracy are a cornerstone of a free society my dear Madam President. We may oppose many Western ideals, and indeed we often need to because we have our own culture and ideals. But everything Western or foreign isn’t bad. We may need to tweak things to fit our own models, but a thriving democracy with a thriving open and free Press is essential for a truly pluralistic and forward thinking nation. I urge you in full humility to uphold this.
Is all media always good? Of course not. Can media create unnecessary provocation? Of course it can. But suppressing media isn’t the answer to that. Allowing media monitoring by the industry itself has proven to be the most workable solution for a strong media everywhere in the world.
Where we need your bravery and uncompromising no nonsense approach, Madam President, is in the continuation of the fight against corruption as advocated by your predecessor. We pray that you will fearlessly continue to crackdown on those who plunder our resources and create an unfair society by amassing what they deserve not. In that Madam President, allow us, the media, to be your ally. We have done this before and we will assist you, but also allow us to feel safe to tell you when we think you are going wrong. No one is ever 100 per cent right. Refusing to be corrected is a path towards dictatorship- which Madam President, we pray vehemently that Allah keeps you away from.
We pray also that you shall continue the legacy of an independent Tanzania. A progressive Tanzania that needs further modernisation and better infrastructure.
Continue on the path of pan-Africanism my dear President. African problems can only be solved by Africans. But Africa needs to stand together as in the times of our Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Nyerere. Then, we could hold our heads up high with the moral high ground that we possessed. We pray you will lead us back there.
And finally Madam President, you are the president of all Tanzanians – male and female. But being a woman in the highest office of the land, you owe it to women to change their plight. Many women continue to suffer massive oppression at different levels. Cast an eye upon your fellow women too, Madam President.
May your path be strewn with God’s blessings and every step you take be with His pleasure.
Congratulations Madam President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of Tanzania.
Sakina is a former producer at Press TV in London and now runs her own media company producing TV shows and documentaries for different media outlets. She is a recipient of the CNN African Journalist of the Year Award.