Tanzania’s Next Leader to Face Predecessor’s Covid Denialism

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Tanzania’s response to the coronavirus will be one of the key issues facing the successor to deceased President John Magufuli, whose unorthodox response to the disease ilicited international consternation.

Under Tanzania’s constitution, 61-year-old Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan is set to take over from Magufuli and serve out his term, which was due to end in 2025.

Magufuli, who died on Wednesday, dominated policy making in the southeast African nation after taking office in 2015, centralizing control in his office and appointing allies to key government posts. His death could create a power vacuum in the ruling party, delay or scupper key projects and foreshadow a rethink on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Tanzania’s Next Leader to Face Predecessor’s Covid Denialism

These are some of the key issues to watch:

Succession

By succeeding Magufuli, Hassan would be the first woman to become president in the six-nation East African Community economic bloc.

Magufuli’s running mate in 2015, Hassan became vice president when he took power and retained her post after he won a second term in October. Her reputation as a moderate, consensus-building politician is starkly different to Magufuli’s -- he was known for his abrasive leadership style that earned him the nickname of ‘The Bulldozer.’

Should Hassan be unable to assume the presidency, the next in the succession line is National Assembly Speaker Job Ndugai. Ultimately, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party will determine who wields power once the dust has settled after Magufuli’s death.

Coronavirus Response

Magufuli’s successor will need to decide whether or not to reverse course on his controversial Covid-19 strategy, roll out vaccines and enforce the wearing of face masks to bring the disease under control.

The former president drew widespread criticism for his approach -- he declared the country free of the coronavirus, banned the publication of infection data and urged people to pray to safeguard their health.

Despite his denialism, public hospitals were swamped in January and February by patients displaying Covid-19 symptoms and funeral masses became daily occurrences, indicating that the nation clearly had a major public health crisis on its hands.

Infrastructure Investment

Magufuli spearheaded a major infrastructure investment drive, and pending decisions on whether to proceed with several mega-projects will now fall to his successor.

They include the construction of a $3.5 billion crude oil pipeline from Uganda to Tanzania’s coast led by Total SA, a long-delayed $30 billion liquefied natural gas development in the south of the country, a new standard-gauge railway line and a hydropower plant.

Tanzania’s Next Leader to Face Predecessor’s Covid Denialism

Investment Reforms

The nation’s new leader will also need to decide whether to run the risk of alienating international investors and press ahead with controversial mining reforms that Magufuli said were needed to ensure the nation derives greater benefit from its natural resources.

In 2017, the authorities asked Barrick Gold Corp.’s local unit to pay a whopping $190 billion tax bill -- a dispute the company settled by paying $300 million and creating a mining joint venture with the state. The government has since said it wants to renegotiate terms with other mining companies, including AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., and secure stakes in their projects.

Magufuli also sought to boost local ownership of other industries. In November 2019, mobile-phone company Bharti Airtel Ltd. agreed to reduce its stake in its Tanzanian unit to 51% from 60%, after a dispute with the government.

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