The African continent should be proud of Tanzania’s seamless passing of power to vice president now President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The world’s first Black Muslim female world leader took the oath of office holding a Holy Qur’an after the death of the East African country’s beloved president and former science professor John Magufuli.
“I think the fact that she’s Muslim and she comes from (the semi-autonomous) Zanzibar speaks volumes and I think the swearing in ceremony itself has been very symbolic, not only for Tanzanians but for many women and young girls around the world,” said Tanzanian activist Maria Sarungi to DW.com. And for “Mama Samia,” as she is affectionally known, to be sworn in during Women’s History Month is just added icing on top of what this historic moment actually represents.
One would think this historic moment in time would receive more than a tweet from a government official, as was received, not from U.S. President Joe Biden, but from Vice President Kamala Harris:
“Sending best wishes to @SuluhuSamia following her swearing in as Tanzania’s new President-—the first woman to hold the office. The United States stands ready to work with you to strengthen relations between our countries.”
Note: You’d think if the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres “extends warm congratulations to Her Excellency Samia Suluhu Hassan,” President Biden at least could do the same.
According to Tanzania’s Constitution, Hassan will serve as president for the remainder of Magufuli’s five-year term that ends in 2025. She will consult with the ruling party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, on the appointment of the vice president. Magufuli, 61, died in office from a heart condition on March 17 in Dar es Salaam.
The new president’s leadership style, most media reports suggest, is quite different than Magufuli’s. The late president was dubbed “The Bulldozer” for his brash and intolerant approach toward policymaking.
The Star reported, “The late Tanzanian President John Magufuli (who only took a $4,000 annual salary) was a man who did not mince his words when it came to state matters. He was resolute and unwavering. As far as he was concerned, it was either his way or the highway. It was not uncommon to find him openly berating government officials to the excitement of the masses.”
University student Noel Mtafya told DW, “President Magufuli contributed immensely to upgrading education, especially tertiary education, by providing loans to high learning students, which is a challenge to many Tanzanians.”
Political analyst Onesmo Kyauke told Voice of America that Magufuli had left his country more prosperous. He said Magufuli had left a country in which corruption has decreased and implemented discipline in government that was not there before. Magufuli’s many projects included airports and electricity infrastructure that will boost the country’s economy, Kyauke said.
But he was also criticized for actions some called threatening to freedom of expression. According to Ado Sahib, secretary-general of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency party, some priorities received no attention under Magufuli’s leadership and urged the new president to “accent economic and political issues and human rights,” according to Voice of America, which is funded by the U.S. government.
Among President Hassan’s first tasks, reported Bloomberg.com, 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. The new president said she would speak at length about her future plans at a later date.
“Born in the semi-autonomous Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar on 27 of January 1960, Hassan studied economics at the University of Manchester. She later obtained a master’s 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,” according to bloomberg.com.
“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.”
During the 22nd of March State Funeral at the Jamhuri Stadium in Dodoma for the former president, the new Tanzanian President Hassan said the late Dr. Magufuli was loved by many in Tanzania and the region and regretted the passing away of the Head of State.
“It is difficult to reconcile with the fact that Dr. Magufuli is no longer with us,” President Hassan said, adding that the late leader was her mentor who helped lift the political profile of Tanzanian women.
“Forever, I will thank him (the late Dr. Magufuli) for my success and the success of the women of Tanzania. Through him, Tanzania got its first woman vice president who is now the first woman president,” she said.
Beneath his no-nonsense approach to the management of public affairs, President Hassan added, Dr. Magufuli was a loving fatherly figure with a playful streak that was only known to those that worked closely with him.
“To many, Dr. Magufuli was known as a no-nonsense person but for those of us that worked with him, he had a jolly side. He loved to see results and expected nothing but results. He had no time for hatred and sideshows,” President Hassan recalled.
She assured Tanzanians and the region that she had what it takes to step into the shoes of Dr. Magufuli and lead the East African country into future prosperity.
“For those in doubt, this woman will be an effective President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Whoever is standing here is the President. I want to repeat that whoever is standing here is the President of Tanzania whose gender is female,” President Hassan affirmed.
She then assured Mrs. Janeth Magufuli, the widow of the former president, that her administration will continue looking after her and the family of the departed leader.
In attendance, along with thousands of Tanzanians was Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was accompanied by EAC Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed, as well as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi and Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi.
Also present were Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zambia President Edgar Lungu, and Botswana President Mogkweetsi Masisi.
During his address, President Kenyatta eulogized the fallen former Tanzanian Head of State as a hardworking and transformative leader whose rich legacy of success within a very short time earned him recognition and respect the world over.
A 2010 Pew Forum report said that 61 percent of Tanzania’s nearly 60 million population is Christian, 35 percent Muslim and the remainder members of other faiths. The Tanzanian Muslim community reports that demographic shifts in the past decade have made the numbers roughly even.
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