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Media fetes Suluhu, smitten Kenyans wish for Mother of the Nation

Kenya’s got talent. Embarambamba. A fan last week circulated on social media a photoshopped image of the Mud Man of Keroka welcoming visiting Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu. That was a statement of how Embarambamba is now a superstar, don’t you think?

But the photo also proclaimed Kenya’s love for Madam President. The newly minted boss of the land of Bongo Flava was in town for a two-day state visit starting Tuesday, May 4. And didn’t the gracious lady wow Kenyans! One hopes her host Uhuru Kenyatta treated Suluhu to an evening of popcorn while watching Embarambamba rolling in the mud, climbing cows, chasing the wind across farms and uprooting trees. In the latest video, he escapes death by a whisker dodging speeding cars.

The media went gaga over Suluhu. On the eve of the tour, the peeps at Citizen TV were so excited they reported that Suluhu is “Africa’s only sitting female president at the moment”. Sahle-Work Zewde, a woman, is Ethiopia’s president since 2018.

Suluhu’s entourage featuring female bodyguards, the perfect delivery of poetic speeches in Kiswahili and her warmth left Kenyans glued to their TV screens.

For three days, East and Central Africa’s largest media house put Suluhu on the front page. “Excitement as Suluhu makes first trip to Kenya,” the Nation celebrated on Monday, May 3.

“Just over 40 days in office, observers say her early indications point towards Tanzania having a more open outlook in terms of regional relationships and her partnerships,” the paper reported. That’s a clear departure from the insularity of her autocratic predecessor, John Magufuli.

“Karibu Suluhu: Why visit is a big deal,” the Nation headline read on Tuesday, May 4. And the following day: “Uhuru and Suluhu hit the reset buttons”.

As a major investor in Tanzania and East Africa, the Nation Media Group has good reasons to embrace Suluhu. The media house – and the region’s journalism generally – suffered under the repressive policies of Magufuli.

It is significant that among Suluhu’s first acts upon assuming power in Dodoma (the TZ capital, not Dar es Salaam as misreported) was to lift restrictions imposed on media freedom by Magufuli.

Uhuru immediately signaled his interest to mend ties with Tanzania, ruined by Magufuli. “For the past six years under President John Magufuli, the fraternal ties between the neighbours – countries that have a long shared history – frittered,” Nation said in an editorial on May 4.

“Kenya and Tanzania were frequently embroiled in trade wars over tariff and non-tariff barriers. At one point Tanzania confiscated Kenya’s animals that strayed to its territory, blocked dairy and confectionary products, seized and burnt day-old chicks and levied fees on truckers. In recent times the countries were at loggerheads over Covid-19 protocols”.

Kenyans admire Tanzania for its unity, peace and nice people grounded on the firm socialist foundations laid by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. This love for Tanzania was deepened by the way the media treated Suluhu’s visit, covered live on TV.

A cartoon by Tanzanian-born Gado circulated widely online showed Uhuru welcoming Suluhu to an Iftar dinner (breaking the fast for Muslims) inside a den of thieves. Official corruption is a problem in Tanzania. But it is an undeclared national disaster in Kenya.

A smitten senior political journalist watching Suluhu’s state visit commented on Facebook: “President Samia Suluhu’s voice is so soothing, Tanzanians are lucky to have a Mother of the Nation. Maybe we should have a woman as our sixth President. But then who?”

Come now, kumbe the fifth is already known? Anyway, the post sparked a passionate debate in a country whose politics is too male, chaotic and cutthroat. And most female politicians seem to think the only way to make it is to behave exactly like their male counterparts. What a man can do?

Uhuru can handle the politics, but people to people diplomacy between Kenya and Tanzania is already deeply rooted. Tanzanian music, both gospel and secular since the days of the big bands and choirs to this day of solo artistes, has dominated the Kenyan entertainment scene for decades.

Yes, like Nation said in its editorial, “let’s forget the past and focus ahead” in building mutually beneficial relations with Ndugu Watanzania. That means Observer should sponsor Embarambamba for a month-long tour of TZ, ama?

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