Ambassador Amina: Devoted public servant

  • She has less appetite for office induced ambiance
  • Hails Dr Salmin for grooming her into a real problem solver

FROM civil service to politics and diplomacy, Ambassador Amina Salum Ali left an indelible impression of exemplary performance in public offices.

“I was always serious; I never entertained nonsense at work,” beams Ambassador Amina, the fourth born in Captain Salum Ali Rashid and Gheda Ferej Tousir’s family of seven children–four girls and three boys.

A strong believer in management by walking around (MBWA) style, the 67-year-old diplomat has less appetite for the office induced ambiance because she says: “The more you stay in office, the more room you give your subordinates to misinform you…I personally make follow-ups to all the directives I give.”

Just at the age of 25, Ambassador Amina was the ministry of trade’s Director of Foreign Trade whose key task was to promote foreign trade and exports, a great feat by any standard. “It was a thrill to assume such huge responsibilities at that tender age; it inspired me to work hard,” India’s University of Delhi economics graduate appreciates.

She fast rose through the ranks to become the first female finance minister in Africa in 1990 when the then Zanzibar President Dr Salmin Amour nominated her to the house of representatives and entrusted her with the finance portfolio.

“This indeed came as a great shock and excitement to me; at that young age of 33, I was special seats member of parliament; nominated member of the house; and not only finance minister but the only female heading the treasury portfolio in the African continent; it surely overwhelmed me,” Ambassador Amina told the Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Limited (TSN) editorial team, which she hosted for an interview at her Migombani home in Unguja, recently.

And, working under Dr Salmin groomed her into a real problem solver. At one time, the treasury was too resource constrained to pay salaries to civil servants. As finance minister, Ambassador Amina approached the president but the response she received just baffled her.

She recalls: “President Salmin just stared at me; he then retorted: ‘for what do you think I appointed you finance minister?’ Go, do your work.” It was an uphill task, she remembers, but fortunately the central bank came to their rescue and the salaries were paid.

The successful career woman who aspires to celebrate her 67th anniversary next month is an experienced civil servant, politician and diplomat with about 40 years of uninterrupted managerial duties in finance and economic affairs, having served in executive, ministerial and ambassadorial levels.

Her decade stint in the African Union (AU) is remarkable. The AU picked Ambassador Amina its Permanent Representative to the United States in October 2006 through 2015. She worked hard to develop, maintain and consolidate constructive and productive institutional relationship between the African Union and the US government, the congress, the Breton Woods institutions and non-governmental organisations.

“I was tasked to open the first AU office in Washington; create close relation between the Americas and Africans; promote Africa’s interests in America and create a positive image of Africa,” says Ambassador Amina, adding that she further worked hard to create American popular opinion about Africa and AU key issues of concern.

In close partnership with the World Bank, she developed programmes to support refugees and internally displaced persons in conflict areas, fragile states and regional projects.

“As part of the AU mandate, I supported the peace process and related negotiations between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan on the distribution of external debt obligations and debt relief between the two governments,” she says.

The envoy, in collaboration with the African group of ambassadors, successfully coordinated the African position in their relation with America. “We countered media distortions of emerging development and events in Africa,” Ambassador Amina speaks of her proud work in Washington DC.

The distinguished diplomat who competitively participated in the 2015 general elections, emerging among the top three presidential candidates, served as minister of trade and industry between 2016 and 2020 in the last term of Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein. She is the brain behind the industrial sector reforms, trade facilitation and creation of conducive business environment enjoyed in the spice islands today.

Ambassador Amina, one of Zanzibaris with vast experience in both the union and revolutionary governments, was born on October 24, 1957 at Unguja’s Ng’ambo suburb. She went to Ng’ombe primary school where she completed her primary education before joining secondary school for her ordinary secondary education.

She travelled to India to pursue food processing engineering but changed to economics and graduated in 1979 with BA Economics. The mother of four–three girls and one boy–and wife to Haji Masoud Vuai was in India again in 1981 for Masters of Business Administration in marketing at the University of Pune’s Symbiosis College of Management.

And, in 1983, the diplomat was in Finland, pursuing Diploma in Trade and Export Marketing at the University of Helsinki.

After retirement, Ambassador Amina is working with female entrepreneurs to support their struggles towards economic emancipation. “I patronise Zanzibar Women Chamber of Commerce though we are not doing well,” she said, adding that she also grows herbs.

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