Tanzania’s president calls for better birth control in country

Samia Suluhu Hassan says education, healthcare and food supply under pressure in reversal of predecessor’s stance

Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president of Tanzania, has called for better birth control in the east African country in a dramatic reversal of the stance of her authoritarian predecessor, John Magufuli.

Since taking power last year, Samia has won praise for her efforts to reverse many of Magufuli’s more controversial policies, most notably his denial of the dangers posed by Covid in Tanzania.

Magufuli had described users of contraceptive as “lazy” and said that birth control was unnecessary because “education is now free” and food cheap. A committed Roman Catholic, the former president also banned young women from returning to school after pregnancy.

Samia’s call for more birth control came after a visit to the west of Tanzania, where she learned that more than 1,000 children had been born in a single clinic in one month.

“I was told in a Buselesele ward in Geita region [that] one health centre produces 1,000 children a month,” Hassan said. “Now how many classes will be needed after three years? What of health centres? How many will be needed to serve all these children? How many tonnes of food will be needed? Let’s reduce the speed and have a control on this.”

Low levels of contraceptive use is one reason for high birthrates in Tanzania, where women have almost five children each on average, according to the World Bank. The number has dropped dramatically over recent years, down from nearly six 20 years ago and seven in 1980, but is still considered far too high.

Samia, formerly vice-president, became Africa’s only political female leader after Magufuli died from heart disease in 2021. Soon afterwards she was vaccinated against Covid. Magufuli had refused to allow health authorities to count Covid cases, expressed scepticism about the vaccine and said he preferred traditional remedies to social distancing.

She has moved to ease the repression of opposition figures that marked Magufuli’s later years in power, pushing through measures designed to attract investment and bringing more women into government.

Though Samia has said she had to fight to gain acceptance as a female leader, she also angered people by saying that some female footballers who won trophies for Tanzania were too masculine looking to attract husbands.

Contributor

Jason Burke Africa correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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