Intelligence insights: challenges and potentials for Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan's security sector reform ambitions

    By Evarist Chahali, intelligence analyst.

    Bottom line up front

    • President Samia Suluhu Hassan recently formed a 12-man-committee and secretariat of five members to investigate the performance of security forces in the country.
    • She stated that she has formed the two teams to advise her on the best way to bring changes in the performance of the East African nations's criminal justice system.
    • “We are going to see if rules and regulations are followed by these organs. Are we really serious or are we used to each other so that it has reached a stage that we don't take stern actions against each other,” said President Hassan.
    • Names of teams' members have not been revealed except for the head, ex-Chief Justice Mohammed Chande Othman, and his vice chair, former Chief Secretary Ombeni Sefue.
    • While the committee and secretariat are likely to have an easy task in investigating the performance of the police force, which President Samia said would be the first on the list, the their toughest challenge would almost certainly be in dealing with the spy agency TISS. While the former's vices are largely "open secrets", it is virtually impossible to investigate the latter, at least in the Tanzanian context.

    What are the teams supposed to do?

    As per a local daily, the committee and the secretariat are expected to oversee such areas as

    • how the security organs operate, employment systems and training.
    • investigate how the forces recruit their staff, their qualities and capacity and education background.
    • see if rules and regulations are followed by these organs.
    • look in detail in all organs involved in the criminal justice system and how the rights of the people are prioritised.

    Any challenges?


    Essentially, President Hassan would not have needed to form the teams had TISS been efficient. While all intelligence agencies work secretly, those with knowledge of how TISS is run would be in agreement in an assertion that secrecy has has been quite effective in facilitating corruption.

    It is also known within such circles that there is a symbiotic relationship between the spy agency and the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, whose chairperson is none other President Hassan.


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    TISS is unlikely to avoid investigation by President Hassan's team although she did not name it during her recent speech in capital Dodoma, after swearing in new Inspector General of Police and Director of Criminal Investigations, Cammilus Wambura and Ramadhan Kingai, respecticely.

    But it looks virtually impossible for any body, let alone the President's committee and secretariat, to investigate the exceedingly secretive spy agency. To expose corruption within TISS would definitely require co-operation within the agency, which would be so difficult to find, as well as from former employees, most of whom would almost certainly avoid risk their lives to reveal anything they might know.

    According to credible sources, one of most serious dangers facing TISS, and Tanzania in general, is how deeply "penetrated" the spy agency is. In intelligence terminologies, "penetration" = "being compromised by a hostile entity."

    It is understood that while for a larger part, falling victim to foreign spy agencies' "honeypot operations" - using attractive women to extract secret information - some of TISS officers are reported to be in "the business of selling secret information." That should not come as a surprise in a nation where "not using whatever position one holds to earn extra income is laughable."

    To further complicate the situation, during Magufuli's iron fist rule, intelligence works was outsourced to some foreign spy agencies, including from at least one neighbouring country. Reports claim the same country supplied him with some members of his protection team, as he had little faith in TISS, at least in his early days in power.

    On the other hand is still yet not clear what legal frameworks would be in place to give the President's teams required mandate to properly conduct the investigations.

    While not a challenge per se, Tanzania is reknown for its "committee syndrome" i.e. there have never been shortage of committees, secretariats, task forces, you name it, but most of them are as quickly forgotten as they were formed. A good example, it remains unknown as to what happened to a report from a team formed by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa to investigate the iconic Kariakoo Market inferno in Dar es Salaam

    Arguarbly, "the committee syndrome" is even more prevalent within the workings of the Tanzanian government itself, with some statutory bodies doing impressive job, coming up with comprehensive reports, only for such reports to not be acted upon. For instance, since she was sworn in in March 2021 following her the death of her authoritarian predecessor, John Magufuli, President Hassan has already received two annual reports from the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) for 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 but no action has so far been taking against the culprits. A former tourism minister who was named in one of the reports is still roaming free.

    Historical challenge?

    In his paper Intelligence Services in Sub-Saharana Africa: Making Security Reform Work, Dustin Dehez notes that "A majority of African states has at some point tried to develop socialist systems, whether they called it scientific socialism or African socialism. Between the beginning of the decolonisation period and the 1980s, no fewer than 35 of 53 states called themselves socialist at various times.  These experiences have left a problematic legacy since socialist regimes tend to highlight regime security even more than other autocracies, often by putting the party and not the state in charge of national security affairs and the army. Communist countries simply would not tolerate anything like a military outside the political realm, since in previous decades they considered it the armed wing of capitalism and the defender of the bourgeoisie."

    In post- Ujamaa (African socialism) Tanzania, the security apparatus has primarily remained in service of the ruling party. The 1992 political reforms which ushered multiparty political system in have seen little to divorce the likes of TISS and Police Force from the ruling party CCM.

    Dehez asserts that "corruption, poor ministerial planning, and the lack of oversight have left many of sub-Saharan Africa’s armies and intelligence services ill prepared for current challenges, from an increase in the trade of narcotics in Western Africa to the threat of radical Islamism in the Horn of Africa."

    Any potentials?


    The most signifant takeway from President Hassan's announcement is, on the one hand, it would not cost her anything if she would have choosen to follow her male predecessors' suit to stay away from security sector reforms. On the other hand, she surely understands that what she has ambarked on could very well be a political suicide mission.

    Tanzanian society is largely patriarchal and in many communities, women are under the control of men and often accorded to a lower social status. Gender roles have, therefore, been stereotyped as being masculine and feminine. It therefore not surprising to hear from President Hassan herself acknowledging that some people had doubted if she as a woman could to lead the nation of over 60 million as a President.

    A number of people who were interviews by Ujasusi Blog about what they thought of the President's decision to form a committee and secretariat to investigate security forces, largely dismissed it with some saying if she was serious about social justice, her choices of IGP and DCI betrayed her. The two have been accused of being part of Magufuli's "unknown assailants" phenomenon.

    With virtually no motive for her to try such a tall order, it is fair to suspect that what drove President Hassan to come up with the idea of forming teams to investigate the security forces is down to her political will. And that is where the magic could happen, because as in many other third world countries, particularly African, it is rather a leader's political will than anything else that makes change possible.

    As Dehez observed in his paper that "like many military forces in sub- Saharan Africa, intelligence services in autocracies have been and frequently are still dominated by the ethnic group that seized power in the nation, however small that group", security forces in Tanzania are notorius for nepotism in their recruitment.

    During his 5 years in power, Magufuli is reported have brought swelled the number of TISS staff with recruitment of new officers from his tribe. But to be fair to him, for over a decade now, the most popular route to join the spy agency has been having personal connections. As a result, allegiancies among most members of the agency have been to their "godfathers" that the state they are supposed to serve and protect.

    In conclusion, President has stumbled upon the right course of history to detach security forces from political abuses, as well as getting rid of existing notion that those forces "exist for the sole purpose of enhancing regime security," as Dehez puts it.

    He further proposes that "the challenge, therefore, really lies in overcoming historically grown civil-intelligence relations that focused on regime security and replacing them with relations characterised by stronger ties between oversight committees and intelligence leadership, at the same time ensuring that the services focus on state rather than regime security."

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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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