- Sep 5, 2020
||When Tanzanian authorities announced the passing of President John Magufuli on Wednesday, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan (pictured) delivered the grim news. The 61-year-old was sworn in as her country’s first woman president two days later, propelling her from the relative obscurity of her number two role to centre stage.|
Samia [referred to by her first name, as per local convention] entered politics as a member of the Zanzibar House of Representatives in 2000. She served in various capacities in the autonomous region’s government, including as tourism minister, before moving to the mainland.
In 2010, she shot to national prominence, winning a seat in the Tanzanian Parliament where she served until Magufuli handpicked her as his running mate during his successful first term campaign in 2015. She is now set to complete Magufuli’s second term of five years, which was secured in a contentious election just months ago, in October 2020.
Samia is considered an introvert and contemplative thinker, the opposite of her more off-the-cuff predecessor, Magufuli, who craved the limelight and was fond of cracking jokes.
With her ascension to her first executive position, it remains to be seen how Mama Samia, as she is affectionately known, will rule over the country of 60-million at this critical period. Lenny Kasoga, a Dar es Salaam-based political analyst, told The Continent she is a calm and rational politician who does not
Samia Hassan takes power amid tragedy, hardship and a very real pandemic Zanzibar: President Samia Suluhu Hassan is said to be contemplative and calm – unlike her predecessor get flustered easily, a character trait that should serve her well in the top job.
“I have been following her since she was tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution [in 2014], she did very well, so I hope she will do the same,” Kasoga said.
Samia, who worked as a team member on a project funded by the World Food Programme before beginning her political career, takes the reins at a time when Covid-19 is threatening to overwhelm Tanzania’s medical capacities.
Magufuli took Covid-19 denialism to an extreme, famously saying “Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ. It will burn instantly.” In that spirit, Tanzania stopped recording official Covid-19 figures last April, but an investigation in The Continent last month found that hospitals were recording an increasing number of infections related to the pandemic.
Padre Privatus Karugendo, an analyst and philosopher, told The Continent that many Tanzanians want Samia to champion a new constitution, an independent electoral commission and strengthen patriotism, unity and solidarity. Last year’s election was marked by violence and irregularities, and Magufuli’s tenure saw the erosion of democratic and press freedoms. Journalists were arrested and independent media muzzled.
It’s unclear whether Samia will seek to usher in a more democratic society, but the signs are not promising. On the campaign trail last year, she made a number of concerning statements. At a campaign stop in Chunya, southern Tanzania, Samia asked people to vote for the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party but warned that even if they did not, the CCM would still win the elections.
She compared voting for other parties to pouring sugar into Lake Victoria in a doomed attempt to sweeten the water. And, while campaigning in the port city of Tanga last September, she argued that allegations that police officers were involved in the 2017 assassination attempt on opposition candidate Tundu Lissu could not be true — because had it been the police, they would have succeeded in killing him. Lissu was shot 16 times at his residence in Dodoma. “Our police officers are well trained, there was no way they could have missed him,” she said.
The offhand remark was poorly received by Tanzanians, particularly on social media. She was, however, the only high-ranking government official to visit Lissu in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was recovering after the attack. Perhaps, then, the benefit of the doubt is hers to lose.