Regarding Tanzania’s political and economic future, there is rising hope. To assist in soothing some of the tensions that grew when her predecessor, John Magufuli, was in office, the new President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has started to loosen limitations on the activity of opposition political groups.
A planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) project might become Tanzania’s largest-ever industrial investment, and the nation’s broad-based growth has made it one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. Although the country has yet to hold a competitive national election, and an over-reliance on hydrocarbon earnings is a concern, Hassan has undoubtedly changed the atmosphere during her first two years in office.
Magufuli had a reputation for being abrasive with international investors, even though it was incredibly popular with vast segments of the Tanzanian public. He also disliked political opposition. In the middle of 2016, he outlawed opposition party demonstrations, which was a significant move considering how important rallies and public meetings are to Tanzanian politics and most of the continent.
The Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which had dominated the nation since its independence, has long been inclined to authoritarianism, but the man known as “The Bulldozer” amplified this trait.
After lifting restrictions on some media outlets, Hassan planned to abolish the ban on opposition demonstrations at the beginning of 2023 as part of her 4Rs initiative (Reconciliation, Resilience, Reforms, and Rebuilding).
The largest opposition party, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema), has already organized large-scale rallies. To participate in them, Chadema leader Tundu Lissu, who fled the nation in 2017 after surviving an attempted murder attempt in which he was shot 16 times, returned to Tanzania.
Over many years, Chadema has steadily expanded as a political force, largely due to grassroots engagement, and currently counts some former CCM leaders among its members.
But in the 2020 elections, where it won just one constituency, down from 36 in 2015, the low tolerance for political dissent reached its nadir. Despite spending most of his time in exile in Belgium, Lissu only received 13% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election. There were numerous claims of serious electoral violations.
Hassan does appear to be repairing some of the harm Magufuli caused to the political system. Still, the public wonders if she will do more to promote a true open democracy.
Opposition parties already had a disadvantage even before her predecessor took office. Additionally, Hassan served as Vice-President of the previous administration for the five years before Magufuli’s passing. During that time, political rivals, including Chadema head Freeman Mbowe, were imprisoned, but these allegations against him were ultimately dismissed.
Hassan also took two years to relax the prohibition on public gatherings, allowing the opposition parties just two and a half years to regroup and prepare for the election in October 2025. Although she claims that everyone has the right to freedom of speech, she has cautioned opponents not to “trade insults” and to be “civil.” However, Lissu hopes the CCM is now prepared for a more transparent political approach. Hassan has agreed to consider suggestions from the opposition to increase the independence of the judiciary and electoral commissions and to amend the constitution to lessen the power of the Presidency.
In a nation with much work to be done on empowering women, the President is significant as Tanzania’s first female Head of State. Although there is no indication yet of how far Hassan will change the nation’s political culture, it is at least a decent beginning. Lissu’s return to the nation and the fact that opposition parties should be able to mobilize once more may help create momentum for ongoing change.
In many ways, a truly open democratic system that promotes debate and discussion of national and local issues will bring Tanzania back to its renowned openness under the administrations of Julius Nyerere (1964–85), Ali Hassan Mwinyi, and Benjamin Mkapa, who followed him. High-quality talks were commonplace in the halls of power and on the streets during this time, earning the nation the title of Africa’s intellectual capital.
While the country is coping better than many of its neighbors with the effects of the war in Ukraine, President Samia Hassan undoubtedly benefits from the economy’s recovery after the COVID-19-inspired slump. However, food prices are significantly higher than general inflation, which only averaged 4.5% last year. At the height of the epidemic in 2020, the economy expanded by 2%, but it recovered to 4.3% in 2021 and an estimated 5.1% last year.
Tanzania’s 61.5 million people have a $1,136 per capita income, the second-highest level in East Africa. According to the World Bank, Tanzania is expected to have one of Africa’s best-performing economies this year, with a growth of 5.3% compared to the continent’s average of 3.6%.
Although this expansion has typically been widespread, the nation is close to winning its largest-ever investment initiative. A framework agreement for developing an LNG project in Tanzania’s south was reached last year with the Tanzanian government by the UK’s Shell and Norway’s Equinor. The final investment decision is scheduled for 2025. Although the production size hasn’t been decided, 15 million tonnes per year has been suggested, and more could come later.
The program was referred to as “Tanzania’s best-ever economic opportunity” by Stanbic Bank Tanzania. The bank estimates that a production capacity of 15 million tonnes annually will increase Tanzania’s GDP by around $7 billion while bringing in $2 billion in government revenue. The economic significance of the project is evident given that the GDP was $67.8 billion in 2021 and that projected government spending for 2022–2023 was $17.69 billion.
The plan should significantly impact Tanzania’s growth, especially in the country’s extreme southeast, one of its least developed regions. While the onshore plant that will liquefy the gas is being built, about 6,000 jobs will be generated, with fewer staff being required to operate the plant.
The government is anticipated to demand that Tanzanians fill as many jobs as possible. Infrastructure upgrades, such as increased port capacity, that are required to support the project should advance global economic growth.
Additionally, the development plan calls for local gas availability of at least 200 million cubic feet per day. This might be used to fuel a brand-new power plant, but some gas could also be used to make cement and fertilizer.
However, clear hazards are associated with the rapid cash infusion into the economy. First, it is all too simple for governments to place excessive emphasis on hydrocarbons while ignoring other aspects of the economy, as Nigeria’s historical experience shows.
If oil had never been discovered, Nigeria probably would be in a better place today economically, socially, and politically.
Second, Ghana’s current economic challenges highlight the risks associated with governments increasing spending too rapidly in anticipation of oil and gas earnings and the possibility for inflation associated with a hydrocarbon boom.
These lessons from West Africa and those from Botswana, where diamond wealth has generally been wisely invested and utilized over several decades for the benefit of generations of Botswanans, are hopefully lessons that the Tanzanian government has learned.