President Samia Suluhu of the United Republic of Tanzania made history yesterday as one of the few female heads of State from Africa to address the UN General Assembly in New York.
She assumed office seven months ago (in March 2021) after the death of President John Maghufuli, making her the sixth president of the United Republic of Tanzania. She previously served as vice-president in 2015 and was re-elected to the post in 2020.
In her maiden speech at the General Assembly, Ms. Suluhu decried the COVID-19 vaccine inequality, noting that high and middle-income countries were now giving booster vaccinations while developing countries such as Tanzania had barely inoculated even 2 percent of the population.
“The level of vaccine inequity that we see is appalling. It is truly disheartening to see that most of the countries have inoculated less than 2 per cent of the populace and thus need to seek more vaccines for our people,” she said.
“With the current pace, it is less likely that we will meet the WHO threshold of vaccinating at least 40 percent of people in every country by end of 2021, and at least 70 percent by the first half of 2022.”
President Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of the United Republic of Tanzania, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-sixth session.
While calling for the waiving of the rights of vaccine patents in order for all countries to be able to produce them, Ms. Suluhu also spoke about the devastating effects COVID-19 had on Tanzania’s once-flourishing economy, including increased poverty levels and decreased economic growth.
“After the onset of the pandemic, we in Tanzania, and I believe in many other developing countries, were stuck in the twilight of protecting lives and livelihoods. Measures advocated by the WHO were geared towards protecting lives, however, an economy like Tanzania, consists of a bigger proportion people living on subsistence economy whom we need to keep afloat,” she said.
The Tanzanian President also spoke at length on gender equality, a cause she avidly advocates.
“As the first female president in the history of my country, the burden of expectation to deliver gender equality is heavier on my shoulders. Being passionate about gender equality is not sufficient and as such, my government is reviewing policy and legal frameworks in order to come up with actionable and measurable plans to ensure economic empowerment of women and other aspects pertaining to gender equality and gender parity,” she noted.
Stimulus packages, she said, were being created to reduce the number of women and girls living in poverty.
She called for global unity, saying that countries are intertwined in their goals and that multilateralism must prevail in the face of COVID-19.
“Unilateralism will not get us anywhere when it comes to challenges that transcend our national boundaries. A wise person said, and I quote, ‘Alone, one will go faster, but together, we will go far’.”
Meeting with UN Secretary-General
During her time in New York, Ms. Suluhu also held a meeting with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, during which they discussed peace and security challenges in the region.
The Secretary-General welcomed the recent significant policy shifts in Tanzania, including on the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterated the UN’s support to Tanzania in its effort to achieve Agenda 2030.
Other female presidents
Although most African countries joined the UN in the 1960s soon after they attained independence, with a few joining earlier than that or later, it wasn’t until 2006 that the first African female Head of State, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, addressed the UN General Assembly.
Currently, the 54 African member states of the UN make up to 28% of its overall membership. Before 2006, only male heads of State and governments had addressed the General Assembly.
Other African female heads of State that followed were Joyce Hilda Banda of Malawi in 2012, Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic in 2014, and most recently, Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia in 2019.