Tanzania’s First Woman President, Samia Hassan Suluhu Steps into Huge Shoes Left Behind by Legendary President Pombe Magufuli

Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn in today to make history as Tanzania’s first female President. She replaces Tanzania’s fifth President, John Pombe Magufuli, whose death was announced on March 17, after weeks of speculation about his health.

The new President is to serve the remaining time left off Magufuli’s term which ends in October 2025. Until her swearing-in Friday, she had been Magufuli’s Vice President, since 2015.

Ms. Hassan was sworn-in before a small audience largely made up of men that included Tanzania’s two remaining former Presidents, Jakaya Kikwete and Hassan Mwinyi, as well as several members of the armed forces.

After she was sworn-in, Ms. Hassan made a short speech, saying that although this was an important day in her service of Tanzania, it was also difficult to say much as she had a wound on her heart and a burden over her shoulders caused by the passing of her predecessor.

Samia Suluhu Hasan takes command of Tanzania to replace late President John Magufuli (C) DW

She then announced that March 22 to 25, would be public holidays, as this is when the different funeral ceremonies for the burial of Magufuli would take place. She also announced 21 days of mourning and flags flying at half-mast.

Analysts say that even as the 61-year-old leads the process to mourn Magufuli, she now must decide whether to chat her own path or follow in the footsteps of her great and patriotic predecessor.

Magufuli was a leader who inspired many people across the continent, but he was also criticized mostly by the Western media for his lack of moderation and the refusal to respect human rights in Tanzania.  

Part of Magufuli’s legacy includes harassment of opposition politicians, such as Tundu Lissu who in 2017 survived an assignation after he was shot 16 times; then there are journalists who were jailed for their work.

Activists also highlight President Magufuli’s hostility towards the provision of reproductive health services.

Joy Asasira, a Program Manager at the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development hopes that Ms. Hassan can among other things work on policies that improve the lives of women.  

“When Magufuli was President, he reminded public officials of Tanzania’s policy of burring girls who get pregnant while in school, from returning. That policy is unfair and should be reversed,” said Asasira.

Tanzania’s new President has previously encountered this policy when she was Minister of Labour, Gender and Children Affairs on semi-autonomous Zanzibar in 2005. Ms. Hassan reversed this policy in her role as Minister then, but as President of Tanzania, dealing with this policy now would be to go against her predecessor’s stance on the matter.

Ms. Asasira says she hopes the new President of Tanzania still holds the same views she did in 2005, as the policy of pushing girls out of the formal education is unfair, since no one ever impregnated themselves.

“Teenage mothers are likely to end up living below the poverty line,” says Asasira. She adds that the children of teenage mothers are also more likely to end as teenage mothers, and this is a cycle that can only be broken if the Tanzanian government invests in the provision of comprehensive sexual reproductive health services.

Samia Suluhu Hasan and Late President John Magufuli when he lived (C) DW

With Magufuli as President, the provision of reproductive health services had been pushed to the side. President Magufuli argued at the time that women having more children allowed Tanzania to expand its market. Magufuli also argued that Tanzania has enough land and only lazy people unwilling to work would decide to not have children.

Another issue that Ms. Hassan must deal with practically is whether Tanzania will continue the current policy when dealing with Covid-19. During the swearing-in ceremony, Ms. Hassan who was wearing a black suit, with a red blouse and head wrap did not have a mask on. Her entourage and most of the army men that witnessed her swearing did not have a mask on either.

But with Tundu Lissu who first spoke on record of Magufuli’s sickness, saying the former President died of Covid-19, it remains to be seen how Ms. Hassan will deal with this sticky issue.