Since the death in-office of President Magafuli the accession to State House of his Vice-President has heralded at least a change in tone. Where her predecessor was abrasive and autocratic President Samia Hassan is engaging and consultative. Where he was populist and prone to grand standing, she is thoughtful and considered. But the reasons behind this change owe little to some form of Damascene conversion and more to pragmatism and a desire to maintain the party’s hold on power in a changing world. Understanding the motivations behind the change and the drivers of it – and therefore how to influence and support it – will be key to engaging positively and constructively with Tanzania in at least the near term. The opportunity inherent in this is an alignment of interests not of ideology.
Operating in the shadow of three Presidents – former Presidents Kikwete and Magafuli; serving President of Zanzibar Mwyni – and confronted by conservatism including within the very institutions which she needs to make her changes, Samia needs to strike new, different and – crucially – more inclusive alliances. In such a mixed context, a legitimate, capable, more strategic civil society could offer much to change in Tanzania – not so much through mass and scale but by helping to tip what is an otherwise delicate political balance away from autocracy and towards mutual benefits for all.
Here too interests rather than ideology prevail. A self-serving (cross-party) elite has become exclusive and arbitrary. Both Samia and civil society needs to find a way to dilute this toxic brew. If both can model – and participate in – a new culture of constructive debate, the quality of ideas and action can be improved driving better results. The opportunity now is to show that engagement can be constructive and not threatening; and that being responsive and accountable is a strength not a weakness.
In the near term, helping Tanzania and Tanzanians re-discover the art of inclusive and constructive engagement, built on problem identification, analysis and resolution based on evidence, will help to show that more and better is possible; and help to grow practical solutions to complex problems. Doing so in an open inclusive manner, in which debate is participatory and accessible to all, could help to set a new tone as Tanzania contemplates navigating tricky and challenging change in the future.