Tanzania’s First Female Leader Sworn In With Authority in Doubt

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Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s president two days after the death of incumbent John Magufuli, and now faces the arduous task of securing political control of the East African nation.

Hassan, 61, took the oath of office at a ceremony in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam on Friday. She succeeded Magufuli under a constitutional provision that the president’s deputy will serve out their term if they die in office.

“I’m taking oath to the highest office in the land in a period of sorrow,” Hassan said in an inauguration speech in which she called for national unity. “I was not prepared for this nor did I ever expect us to lose our president.”

Tanzania’s First Female Leader Sworn In With Authority in Doubt

While widely regarded as an astute politician, Hassan lacks a powerful political constituency of her own and needs to secure the backing of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party if she is to remain president until the next election in 2025.

The nation’s sixth post-independence ruler, Hassan is the first woman to occupy the post. Magufuli selected her as his running mate in 2015, but later revealed that former defense minister Hussein Mwinyi was his preferred option, and that he’d heeded the CCM’s advice to chose a female deputy. He retained her in the post after securing a second term in October.

Coronavirus Policy

Among Hassan’s first tasks will be to name a new deputy in consultation with the ruling party. She’ll also need to decide whether to review her predecessor’s controversial approach toward tackling the coronavirus pandemic, proceed with planned infrastructure mega-projects and overhaul investment policies that were aimed at boosting local ownership, but have spooked foreign investors. Hassan said she would speak at length about her future plans at a later date.

As vice president, Hassan oversaw the relatively low-profile environment and union affairs portfolios, and was seen to play a largely ceremonial role while Magufuli and his inner circle determined policy and took key decisions.

Vacancies within the upper echelons of the CCM will likely work to Hassan’s advantage. The party doesn’t currently have a chairman or a secretary-general, and tradition dictates that as president, Hassan should get the former post and decide who is appointed to the latter.

Economic Credentials

Born in the semi-autonomous Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar on Jan. 27, 1960, Hassan studied economics at the University of Manchester. She later obtained a masters degree in community economic development and served as a lawmaker in Zanzibar and in the national parliament before being named minister of state in the vice president’s office.

She also held the post of vice chair of the constituent assembly, which oversaw the drafting of a proposed new constitution in 2014. The document -- which was eventually shelved by Magufuli -- proposed reducing the president’s powers, establishing an independent electoral body and allowing presidential election results to be challenged in court.

When Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s main opposition leader, was shot by unknown gunmen in an attempted assassination in November 2017, Hassan was the only senior government or ruling party official to openly visit him in the hospital. The gesture enhanced her reputation as a moderate politician and set her apart from Magufuli, who was known for his heavy handed leadership and cracking down on dissent and civil rights.

Magufuli died on March 17 at the age of 61, from what the government said was a “heart illness.” Lissu said his sources had informed him that Magufuli had contracted Covid-19.

Hassan declared 21 days of national mourning for predecessor, who will be buried in his home village of Chato on March 25.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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