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Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Love Note to Mama Samia


A Love Note to Mama Samia


On that particular evening, like many Tanzanians, I was glued on the sofa watching a LIVE broadcast of the CCM Presidential Candidate nomination. The 3 finalists were two women and one man. As the gender activist I am, I believed on the possibility that CCM will nominate a woman candidate, hence, the likelihood of having the first woman president in Tanzania. 

But my logical self was telling me that the women finalists were strategically brought in to divide women votes, sweeping the floor for a man to win. 

The results came in, both women lost. I was tearing up, angry and emotional. While people on TV were happily dancing for having their candidate, I was cursing, shouting and complaining. Then the candidate announced his running mate, Mama Samia.

 I was still angry, but I remember the ‘then president and party chairman’ said ‘wanawake shangilieni, mtakuwa na makamu wa raisi wa kwanza mwanamke’(women, you need to celebrate, you will have the first woman vice president). It was as if he was speaking to me. I accepted a compromise. 

 Fast forward. The election won, and we got the first woman vice president. I was happy. 

It took me courage to write this blog post. In fact, I have deleted many versions of it. I know exactly what might happen to me.

Mama Samia, when you have a chance to read this, treat it as an emotional letter, from a place of love not hate or hypocrisy. You will notice I hardly use data or any statistics because I don’t want my feelings to be reduced to a statistical debate. This is personal, a love letter to my first woman vice president. 

Mama, before I share my feelings with you, allow me to ask you a few questions. Do you know the significance of being the first woman vice president of Tanzania? Do you know what it means to me? Do you know what it means to your fellow women? Do you know what it means to male chauvinists? 

When you took office, I was excited that finally we have a woman in the white house. We have finally proved a point that women too can be leaders. At last we have changed stereotypes. Now we are reviving hopes of millions of Tanzanian women. They too see possibilities of becoming leaders. 

Three years down the line, I can’t help but feel, ‘you need to be reminded of what your position means to all of us.’ 

Mama, have you taken a moment to think  of your legacy? What would you wish to be remembered as the first woman vice president? Let leave the issue of legacy aside. I would ask you some practical questions.

When your boss publicly dehumanised pregnant schoolgirls, did you go to his office and look him in the eye and call that out for what it is? When appointments are being made with less than 10% women representatives, do you call him and ask: ‘Where are the women?’ I am asking these questions assuming that you were not in the room when these decisions were made. If you were, gosh, I would be devastated. 

Mama, I don’t see that we are making any progress. I don’t see what I expected from you as a woman leader. I don’t see our ambassador who negotiates within while we lobby from outside! 

I know you know the many reasons we have been pushing to have more woman leaders. Apart from exercising our rights to vote and be voted for, men have no insights of our experience as women. When in leadership, they tend to take women issues for granted and protect their interest over ours. 

Now we have you as a vice president. Do you get us mama? Do you have our interest at heart? Are you proud and happy with everything that is happening? Or are you as upset as all of us?

 Some of my friends try to convince me that your hands are tied. I refuse to accept that. I refuse to accept that the vice presidency is a toothless position. If it is, then let history records that we are yet to have women in powerful positions. 

As a woman, it took me courage to ask you these questions. But I believe in the power of love and I bank in your wisdom. I know I will be called a hater by some of my fellow women. I also know that the rest of ‘men-kind’ will be jumping with joy, invoking the myth that ‘wanawake hawapendani’(women hate each other).
Mama, let me tell you it is from this fear of being labeled ‘hater’ or the desire to labeled ‘supportive’ that almost all women have chosen to glorify you, singing praises, yet complaining about the backsliding on the gender agenda. In their mind they divorce you from the system, absolving you in everything that is going on now.

 When asked to list five awesome things you have done or changed during your three years in the office, they end up saying, ‘let’s not be too hard on her, her hands are tied’. This excuse that masquerade as an explanation boils my blood. I see you as a comrade, a doer, a mover and shaker, a woman of courage and the list goes on. 

Unfortunately, when your glorifiers think they are bailing you out by saying, ‘your hands are tied’ they are actually saying you are incapable of doing anything. This is an explanation I refuse to accept. And this is why I am sending this letter to you Mama.

Mama, you are wiser than me and you certainly know better. The truth is, as soon as you leave that chair, critics will be throwing arrows right and center. They will tell you then the opposite of what they are telling you now. It will be tough because there will be nothing you can do then. But I believe that in telling you now, there is a lot you can do. That is why I am doing it. 

I know you can handle critics. What would be lethal is to retard the women leaders nurturing movement for failure to provide evidence of transformative leadership. As one of my friend puts it, “better to be ruled by a man who we can punch on the face publicly and shamelessly than being ruled by women who we are ‘not allowed to criticise.”

Mama Samia, there is a reason you are the first woman vice president. This position is not only about you. It is for all of us. That is a lot of pressure for sure, but we don’t have a choice.

 Leave a lasting legacy. Make your vice presidency inspirational to millions of women aspiring to be transformative leaders. Please inspire change on men’s attitudes, so, they too can envision their wives, daughters and sisters in leadership roles. 

Last but definitely not least, prove to all of us that when women lead, the quality of life for all women and men improve, a dignified life became a reality, and society became better. 

With Love,

Mishy

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