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Julien Harneis

Has Tanzania’s parliament elected Anna Makinda as its first female speaker because she’s the best person for the job, or because it thinks she’s less likely to demand accountability than her predecessor, asks Salma Maoulidi.

Tanzania has been trying to come to terms with its dismal election performance in respect to the quantity of women elected to decision-making positions, particularly to elected bodies like parliament, either through direct elections at the constituency level or via appointments to special seats. Currently, to ensure a minimum representation of women in key structures, women are guaranteed 30 per cent representation from the village level to the national level. There are efforts to raise this number to 40 per cent, in order to attain 50 per cent parity as specified in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development.

All indications are that the female representation in parliament will not be as high as in the last parliament, where Tanzania barely made the 30 per cent mark. Perhaps to make some amends for this situation, the ruling party backed the first female speaker in the Tanzania parliament. Madame Anna Makinda is not new to the position as such, considering that she was deputy speaker during the last parliament from 2005-2010. Madame Makinda also has a long history of political engagement and leadership serving in various ministries, as regional commissioner and more recently as a parliamentarian.

While many do not doubt her suitability for the position, a few concerns have been raised about the motivation behind her nomination and eventual selection. Ultimately, this will decide whether her election is a service to women and their quest for leadership or a disservice to the struggle for gender equality. Indeed ongoing feuds within the ruling party have denied the incumbent speaker, Mr Samuel Sitta, from successfully defending his seat. It should be noted that this is the first time in Tanzania’s history that an incumbent is dethroned before retiring voluntarily. To add insult to injury, Mr Sitta was defeated by a woman who previously served as his deputy. While this is a victory of sorts for Tanzania’s maturing democracy, its motivations are more sinister.

Many suspect that Mr Sitta’s style of exposing grand corruption and emphasising the primary role of parliament as a body tasked with demanding accountability from governmental entities and public figures and not just rubber stamping executive wishes [are the reasons for his defeat]. Under Mr Sitta, parliament underwent a revolution of sorts, where all was subject to public scrutiny. In many ways, public officials were brought to their knees for excesses committed while in office, the impetus for greater public accountability not coming just from the opposition but also from back benchers of the ruling party. Probably the public humiliation some powerful political figures faced under his leadership did not make him many political friends. On various occasions while he was still in office Mr Sitta was threatened to be put in his place for causing havoc in the political carriers of powerful political figures in the ruling party, breaking tradition with the ‘mwenzetu’ syndrome (he is one of ours) which plagued the political and governance culture.

Where does this leave the women? Was electing a female speaker a safer bet? Would electing a woman at this powerful position ensure sustaining a patriarchal political culture where towing the party line is paramount or is it meant to thwart the possibility of electing another principled leader who turns the legislative pillar to renegade chieftaincy? Already Madame Speaker has not made it a secret that she plans to govern the parliamentary floor by the book. It is not clear what this means, but speculation is rife that any opposition – either from the real opposition or within the ruling party – would be subdued to bring order and harmony back to parliament.

Putting aside all conjecture, the fact remains that Tanzania has a female speaker. This woman did not come to where she is by chance; she has merited her rise and achievements through hard work and dedication to what ever task or challenge meted out to her. In many ways she epitomises the rise of other equally pioneering women leaders who rose up the ranks, not just because they were loyal party stalwarts but also because they served when it mattered, took risks and accepted whatever challenges came their way.

United Nations (UN) secretary general of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Gertrude Mongella is also a woman with deep political roots in the ruling party and country. She was also the first president of the Pan-African Parliament serving for two terms. In 1985, Mongella became vice-chairperson to the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the UN Decade for Women, which may have singled her out for the Beijing appointment. Madame Mongella’s leadership began at the university where she challenged a rule that barred pregnant women from attending classes. She is also believed to have challenged an underground political wall literature at the university, Mzee Punch, for its sexist bent and rules by breaking those rules. Madame Mongella was not elected by her constituency to parliament in the 2010 elections.

Another notable female figure graces this year’s parliament. This is Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, the recently retired executive director of UN Habitat. Until Asha Rose Migiro’s entry into the UN, she was one of the highest placed women in the UN. Many activists in Tanzania know Anna Tibaijuka for being at the forefront of organising women at the eve of multi party democracy, a move that earned her the scorn of the ruling party and the deregistration of her organisation Baraza la Wanawake Tanzania (BAWATA), intended to bring together women from all political persuasions together around their common interests. She would challenge her deregistration in the courts and after a protracted legal process that saw her move to new personal and professional heights, she won her case.

With a background in agriculture, Anna Tibaijuka was an ardent campaigner for women’s land rights. She was involved in advocacy initiatives towards a more popular land policy that recognised the rights of the disposed. It is perhaps for this reason she was chosen to head the UN Habitat. In may respects she is a pioneer as have been other women of note before her and those who will come after her. I will explore in some detail some of these female pioneers in future articles.

What needs to be emphasised at this juncture is the inevitable challenge women in leadership – especially those who attain positions of power – face. The question that is on everyone’s lips is what are the prospects for womankind when one of their own is at the helm? Judging from experiences elsewhere, women in power have not always been pro-women, pro-poor or pro human development. In Tanzania the activism of prominent women leaders is noticeably mellower as they join the leadership ranks. Some think that their eagerness to fit in may make them complicit in safeguarding the status quo disappointing those calling for transformative feminist leadership.


© Salma Maoulidi 2010
* Salma Maoulidi is a social justice and gender activist in Tanzania.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.