President Samia Suluhu Hassan reshuffled her Cabinet, dropping some and appointing others. In itself, a reshuffle may not be news, but the reasons behind the reshuffle or the message it is intended to send may be of particular significance. What was the message sent in the latest reshuffle?
The reasons behind a reshuffle range from the mundane, such as those necessitated by constitutional requirements like changing the prime minister. Other reasons could be bureaucratic or technocratic, where new ministries are formed by merging some ministries, splitting others, or forming entirely new ones, or anything in between, where the reasons are whispered or turn into guesswork.
To this end, it is rare for reasons to be stated and the message to be clearly communicated. Regardless of the specific reasons behind a reshuffle, they are viewed in the context of the circumstances and times in which they were made.
President Samia has undertaken a total of seven reshuffles during her tenure, with each occurring before the Cabinet could complete twelve months together before the announcement of yet another ‘minor’ reshuffle. The majority of these reshuffles fall into the last category: political reshuffles.
The president’s first reshuffle in September 2021 was undoubtedly about stamping her authority. There have been a few bureaucratic and technical reshuffles, such as when two ministers swapped portfolios. Then there was a reshuffle, which was preceded by the president warning ministers about their political ambitions come 2025. It was party politics.
Officially, the latest reshuffle was about improving performance and strengthening the government’s service delivery to the people. By appointing new ministers and dropping some who clearly struggled to provide solutions.
However, this was the ‘minor’ part of the story. In passing comments, the President mentioned the coming local elections in 2024 as one of the reasons for transferring a minister to the portfolio responsible for organising those elections, as well as the general election in 2025.
This is the other ‘major’ part of the story of this latest cabinet reshuffle.
The appointment of a deputy prime minister struck a jarring note at a time when the country is tortuously trying to find a way out of the current maze of constitutional reforms. Some critics have claimed the post is ‘unconstitutional’, but this is misleading.
Even though the post does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, that does not make it unconstitutional. After all, the constitution does not mention other ministries. That is the prerogative of the president.
The president kept her own counsel on the reasons behind that appointment.
That has led to a torrent of assumptions behind her reasoning for going back nearly thirty years to revive a post that still lacks any clear legal or political mandate. To some, it is about party politics, while others think she is planning for post-2025. Either way, in the immediate future, it sends a confusing message regarding the constitutional reform process.
One way to look at it is that the president has not departed from her political intentions regarding delivering constitutional reforms to the country.
This line of thought points to what has become clear: the journey to any constitutional reform will be gradual, and the outcome will not be “radical, as some of her political opponents and activists would like to see.
The presidential task force recommended that any new constitution wait beyond 2025. Recently, the government also announced plans to provide civic education to the people about constitutional reform, which would take at least three years. That means the country will have to wait until the current constitution clocks in at half a century of existence.
Another way of looking at it is through the ruling party, CCM. The long-ruling party has never warmed up to constitutional reforms or any other reforms, which would mean it is not the driving force. An appointment of a deputy prime minister that was met with celebrations in parliament, where the party has an almost absolute majority, implies that the party is trying to find its own footing, to find a balance between its own future and the interests of other groups in the country agitating for constitutional reforms.
It is not a party that is troubled with looking back to places of comfort and assurance of its own place in influencing and driving the country’s affairs. If the past is any guide, there will be other messages through at least two cabinet reshuffles before 2025 comes to pass.
This one was a reminder that constitutional reforms will reflect many things, including those in charge of the country and their interests, and not only those who wish to replace them in the running of the country’s affairs.