Tanzanian News

Tanzania’s President @SuluhuSamia’s Speech at UNGA76 Named Among 7 Most Important

Tanzania’s first female president stepped onto the scene.

By Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and columnist at Foreign Policy

When Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan finally took the stage to deliver her speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday afternoon, she presented a distinctive contrast to the endless stream of all-male speakers who had preceded her to the podium on the third day of the General Debate. Even more sharply, she stood in clear contrast with the man who preceded her as president of Tanzania.

Suluhu previously served as vice president under President John “The Bulldozer” Magufuli, a man who brooked no disobedience, including on his insistence that COVID-19 didn’t exist in Tanzania. Under his presidency, data on the country’s mounting death toll was suppressed, doctors were gagged, and all coronavirus-related drugs and vaccines were banned.

Then, in February, Magufuli abruptly disappeared from public view—and for the first time, on Feb. 27, a physician gave a nationally broadcast speech warning Tanzanians of the new plague. On March 17, Magufuli died.

Suluhu acceded to the presidency, telling the nation her predecessor had “died of a heart condition”—a statement she has not amended despite it being widely suspected that his cause of death was COVID-19. Days later, South African scientists reported discovery of a “super-mutant” strain of the novel coronavirus unlike any other circulating in Africa, carried by three Tanzanian travelers to Angola. Regional political pressure on Suluhu rose, and over the next several months, she created a COVID-19 scientific advisory council and joined global efforts to obtain vaccines and drugs for her nation.

In her U.N. remarks, Suluhu repeatedly praised multilateralism and the United Nations system. She noted her nation’s dependency on technical and financial support from external sources and admonished that “multilateralism cannot and should not succumb to the virus.”

Far from following Magufuli in denying the presence of the virus in the country, Suluhu acknowledged that “Tanzania has not been spared by COVID-19” and said the pandemic had already radically reduced Tanzania’s economic growth, from 6.9 percent a year to 5.4 percent, primarily due to loss of tourism. This, in turn, has wiped out the country’s ability to finance climate change adaptation.

As the first female leader of her nation, Suluhu pointedly noted that “COVID-19 is threatening to roll back the gains that we have made” in gender equity and said she plans to implement policies aimed at female economic development and political and social advancement.

The world still lacks verifiable COVID-19 data from Tanzania, including on cases and death tolls. But Suluhu started vaccination efforts in July, and with her U.N. speech, she joined the majority of her African peers in strongly denouncing the inequities in global vaccine distribution, with merely 245 million doses distributed as of earlier this month to poorer nations through the U.N.’s COVAX mechanism and 81 percent of all doses having been administered in the wealthiest nations.

Even looking to 2022, the wealthy world is backtracking on promised vaccine donations to COVAX, and nearly 80 percent of African nations will miss not only their short-term COVID-19 control targets but also those set for attainment next year.