Samia Suluhu Hassan succeeds Magufuli - calls for Unity

Following the death of John Pompe Magufuli last week, Tanzania has sworn in his Vice President since 2015, Samia Suluhu Hassan as its new President to become the 6th head of state.

The 61-year-old Hassan’s speech after being sworn called for unity in moving forward.

“This is a time to bury our differences, and be one as a nation,” she said. “This is not a time for finger pointing, but it is a time to hold hands and move forward together.”

The remarks appeared aimed at dispelling a national mood of uncertainty that developed after Magufuli, criticised by opponents as a divisive and authoritarian figure, disappeared from public view for 18 days before his death was announced.

His absence from national life drew speculation he was critically ill with COVID-19. Magufuli died of heart disease, Hassan said when announcing his death on Wednesday.

Among the first challenges facing Hassan, 61, will be a decision on whether to procure COVID-19 vaccines. Under her predecessor, the government said it would not obtain any vaccines until the country’s own experts had reviewed them.

World Health Organisation (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted congratulations to Hassan and said he looked forward to working with her to keep people safe from COVID-19. Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data in May last year, frustrating the WHO.

Hassan will also have the task of healing a country polarized during the Magufuli years, analysts said. She may face challenges building a political base to govern, given competing factions in her ruling party jostling for primacy after Magufuli centralised power around himself, analysts say.

Hassan’s leadership is described as a soft-spoken consensus-builder, Hassan will be the first president born in Zanzibar, the archipelago that forms part of the union of the Republic of Tanzania.

Her leadership style is seen as a potential contrast from Magufuli, a brash populist who earned the nickname ‘Bulldozer’ for muscling through policies and who drew criticism for his intolerance of dissent, which his government denied.

Hassan has in her remarks on Friday praised the late leader in her remarks, describing him as her mentor, but also thanked the opposition for their “wishes of strength, comfort and solidarity” after Magufuli’s death.

Elsie Eyakuze, a columnist and consultant, said Hassan’s inauguration made many Tanzanians happy. “This is just not some kind of token appointment. She’s a competent woman, she’s been working for four decades in a public capacity,” she said.

Rights groups say Magufuli’s six-year-rule was marred by arbitrary arrests, suspension of critical television and radio stations and the blocking of social media and other abuses.

DaMina Advisors, a political risk advisory firm, predicted the new president was likely to make a public U-turn on her predecessor’s policy of COVID-19 denial and his generally negative attitudes toward foreign investors.

Her journey in politics

Suluhu Hassan began her political journey in 2000 after she was elected as a special seat member of the Zanzibar House of Representatives and appointed a minister. At the time, she was the only high-ranking female minister in the Cabinet.

After serving two terms, she sought election to the National Assembly in 2010, winning the vote by more than 80%. President Jakaya Kikwete appointed her as the minister of state for union affairs and in 2014, she was elected as the vice chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly tasked with drafting Tanzania’s new constitution.

In 2015, Magufuli selected Suluhu Hassan as his running mate — a surprise choice over many more prominent members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

(Additional Reporting- Reuters )

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