Samia Suluhu Hassan: Tanzania officially has its first female president

Suluhu Hassan (61) automatically became acting president when the country’s leader, Magufuli, died on Wednesday night.

FILE: Samia Suluhu Hassan became first female President of Tanzania when she was sworn in on Friday,  19 March 2021, following the death of John Magufuli. Picture: Twitter/@SuluhuSamia
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JOHANNESBURG/DAR ES SALAAM – Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn as Tanzania’s first female president on Friday, following the death of John Magufuli this week.

She took her oath of office at the statehouse in Dar es Salaam with VIPs in attendance.

"I, Samia Suluhu Hassan, promise to be honest and obey and protect the constitution of Tanzania," said the new president, as she took the oath of office before inspecting troops at a military parade and receiving a cannon salute.

Suluhu Hassan automatically became acting president when the country’s leader, Magufuli, died on Wednesday night, and now she leads a nation in mourning while flags fly at half-mast for two weeks.

The 61-year-old mother of four from Zanzibar began her political career in the year 2000, and she was first appointed to the national cabinet by former President Jakaya Kikwete.

She became the first female vice president when she and Magufuli won in 2015 and then again in 2020.

She is now the 6th president of Tanzania.

She becomes the only other current serving female head of state in Africa alongside Ethiopia's President Sahle-Work Zewde, whose role is mainly ceremonial.

'A NEW CHAPTER'

Magufuli leaves behind a complex legacy, after a swing to authoritarianism, which saw him crack down on the media, activists and free speech, while refusing to take any measures against COVID-19.

He called for prayer instead of face masks, refused to publish case statistics or implement lockdown measures, and championed alternative medicines.

In May last year he revealed a papaya, quail and goat had tested positive for the virus in a secret operation, proving "sabotage" at the national laboratory.

However by February, as cases soared and the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died from Covid-19, Magufuli conceded the virus was still circulating.

The opposition and rights groups have urged Hassan to change course.

"As we continue mourning, let us use this period to open up a new chapter for rebuilding national unity and respect to freedom, justice, rule of law, democracy and people-centred development," said Freeman Mbowe, the chairman of opposition group Chadema, in a statement on Thursday.

He urged Hassan to "lead the nation toward reconciliation".

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the new government "has a chance for a fresh start by ending problematic past practices."

'HOLD YOUR BREATH'

However analysts say Hassan will face early pressure from powerful Magufuli allies within the party, who dominate intelligence and other critical aspects of government, and would try and steer her decisions and agenda.

"For those who were kind of expecting a breakaway from the Magufuli way of things I would say hold your breath at the moment," said Thabit Jacob, a researcher at the Roskilde University in Denmark and expert on Tanzania.

Hailing from Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island in the Indian Ocean, Hassan rose through the ranks over a 20-year political career from local government to the national assembly.

A ruling party stalwart, she was named Magufuli's running mate in the 2015 presidential campaign. The pair were re-elected in October last year in a disputed poll marred by allegations of irregularities.

Hassan must consult the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) about appointing a new vice president. The party is set to hold a special meeting of its central committee on Saturday.

Tanzania is observing a 14-day mourning period and details on Magufuli's funeral have yet to be announced.

Magufuli is the second East African leader to die under mysterious circumstances.

Burundi's equally COVID-sceptic leader, Pierre Nkurunziza, died from "heart failure" last June after his wife was flown to Nairobi to be treated for coronavirus.

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