It has been only seven weeks since the then Vice-President Samia Sulu Hassan was sworn in as the President of Tanzania following the death of John Magafuli. President Uhuru Kenyatta quite rightly wasted no time in inviting President Samia to Kenya. Her state visit to Nairobi last week bodes well for both Kenya and Tanzania.
In a quiet but confident manner Tanzania’s new President has already begun steering the country in a new direction from that of her predecessor.
Tanzania – New Leader, New Direction
President Samia had declared that she and Magafuli “are essentially the same person”, but they are not.
Whereas President Magafuli, known as ‘the bulldozer’, was often contentious, increasingly autocratic and given to occasional outbursts, President Samia appears to be a calmer, more reasoned and conciliatory individual.
Magufuli cracked down on his opposition, suppressed press freedom and became increasingly autocratic. His economic policies damaged Tanzania’s internal economy and regional trade. He denied the threat, even the very existence of the Covid-19 pandemic at great cost to his country and indeed, ultimately, to himself.
President Samia has already changed Tanzania’s response to the pandemic; she has reached out to the opposition; press freedom looks set to be restored, and she looks to taking a more business-friendly stance. Likewise, as her visit to Kenya last week seems to suggest, she wants a rapprochement with Tanzania’s most important neighbour.
President Kenyatta Charm Offensive
Given the speed with which President Kenyatta invited President Samia to Kenya, the red carpet treatment and 21-gun salute she received on arrival, the reception at State House, and the demeanor of the two leaders when they met, there seems little doubt that the desire for improved relations is heartfelt by both leaders.
Kenya is the biggest investor in Tanzania with Kenyan businesses investing $1.7 billion (Sh182 billion) in the country and employing 51,000 local people.
Kenya and Tanzania are important trading partners but things could be better.
In 2017 Tanzania imported goods worth Sh23.3 billion from Kenya and exported goods to her worth Sh23.7 billion but trade between the two countries has declined since 2014. Then Kenya exported to Tanzania goods worth Sh64.7 billion, and in 2015 imports from Tanzania reached Sh79.4 billion.
During the visit Presidents’ Kenyatta and Samia signed a Memorandum of Understanding and two bilateral agreements – the joint construction of a gas pipeline between Dar es Salaam and Mombasa; and cooperation in culture, arts, social integration and national heritage last Tuesday aimed at opening up trade.
At a joint press conference after their meeting the two Presidents agreed to resolve issues that hamper trade and strain relations between their countries.
These are early days in President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s presidency but the prospects of better relations between Kenya and Tanzania, and better times for the people of both nations seem to be brighter than for many years.