By Prince Kurupati
In the late hours of 17 March 2021, Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan appeared on national television announcing the passing of the country’s president John Pombe Magufuli. The news which didn’t come as a surprise to many owing to Magufuli’s mysterious 3-week absence from the public means that Tanzania will become one of the few African countries to have a female President.
According to the Tanzanian Constitution, after the passing of the President before the end of ‘his’ term, the Vice President will succeed ‘him’ for the unexpired period of the term of five years.
“Where the office of the President becomes vacant by reason of death, resignation, loss of electoral qualifications or inability to perform his functions due to physical deformity, or failure to discharge the duties and functions of the office of President, then the Vice-President shall be sworn in and become the President for the unexpired period of the term of five years and in accordance with the conditions set out in Article 40, and after consultation with the political party in which he belongs, the President shall propose the name of the person who shall be Vice-President and such appointment shall be confirmed by the National Assembly by votes of not less than fifty percentum of all the Members of Parliament.” Tanzanian Constitution Art 37 (5)
Samia Suluhu Hassan’s ascension to the presidential office makes her only the second female President in the whole of East Africa. She follows in the footsteps of Sylvie Kinigi who served as acting Burundi President from 10 July 1993 up to 7 February 1994.
As Samia Suluhu Hassan takes the reins, many eyes will be looking on her response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli was one of the world’s most prominent Covid-19 deniers who refused to enforce national lockdowns when all other countries were taking that step to help contain the virus.
Magufuli was also very much skeptical of Covid-19 vaccines rather urging the nation to use prayer as the only solution to the ravaging virus. With many questions still lingering over the real cause of Magufuli’s death even though official statements say that it was a heart failure, the likeness or difference between Samia Suluhu and Magufuli will be seen from the get go owing to the direction she takes with regards to the nation’s response in light of Covid-19.
Suluhu will also have the all important task of unifying a nation that’s starkly divided between Muslims and Christians. Several Tanzanian analysts stated that the supporters of Magufuli and Christian nationalists were always against the elevation of Suluhu to the Vice President post. With her now at the helm, all eyes will be looking to see if she can win the hearts and minds of her Christian critics.
Samia served in various capacities in government since the time she left school. For long, she served for the Zanzibar government but later on moved to the Tanzania government serving as minister of state under the Vice President office. Suluhu Hassan had already broken a ceiling when she assumed the office of Vice President as she was the first female to hold the Vice President position. She became Tanzania’s first ever female Vice President in 2015 when her running partner John Magufuli won his first election.