Until Wednesday, the publics in Tanzania and Kenya suspected that Tanzanian leader John Magufuli might have passed away but it took an announcement on state television to confirm that the 61-year-old had passed from heart complications.
It has also been suspected that Magufuli was on admission in a hospital in Kenya due to complications from a COVID-19 infection but the institution, as well as Tanzanian government officials, would not answer that. That suspicion was sparked by opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who has since called his former opponent’s death “poetic justice”.
From an observer’s understanding, it would make a lot of sense for the Tanzanian government to avoid engagement on COVID suspicions; the late president suppressed both the knowledge and measures on the virus in Tanzania.
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Tributes continue to pour in from African leaders who are mourning with Tanzanian people. The country will mark 14 days of national mourning when flags will fly at half-mast.
Magufuli had not been seen in public since February 27, prompting questions among citizens. But the government took a tough stance on the rumors, with the prime minister once telling a gathering that the president was well and “sends his greetings” to the minister of legal affairs threatening to bring the law down on those who publish or publicize hearsays about Magufuli’s death.
These examples of propaganda and the use of threats by officialdom, coupled with the denialism on COVID-19 in Tanzania, marked the last year of Magufuli’s presidency. It remains to be seen if his predecessor would follow in those footsteps.
Magufuli only won reelection in October of 2020 and now, the rest of his tenure will be administered by Samia Suhulu Hassan, the vice-president who announced his death. But who is she?
1) Africa’s first Muslim woman to become president
One in every three Africans, and particularly Tanzanians, is Muslim. A good number of this demographic are women and Hassan ticks both boxes. But the importance of her representation also lies in the needfulness of her identity where she finds herself.
She will be the first female president in Tanzania and East Africa and only the third in the entire continent (Africa has had several female presidents who acted in the role). Hassan will be Tanzania’s second Muslim president after Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Both Muslim presidents were raised on the island of Zanzibar and identify as culturally Zanzibari.
2) A woman who keeps a low profile and has been described as quiet
Her appointment by Magufuli in 2015 as running-mate for that year’s election was clearly a choice of political compromise. But the two politicians are also different characters with Hassan bearing all the qualities we would not associate with Magufuli.
Popularly called Mama Samia, the mother of four is slow to talk, keeps a low family profile, and generally non-confrontational despite having been in politics since the year 2000.
But these contrasts in characters say nothing about policy and if Hassan will replicate her former boss’ reign.
3) A long life in public service
Hassan has worked in public service all her life even before she entered politics. From 198, when she became a development officer in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar to the early 1990s when she was a project manager for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Tanzania, the 61-year-old earned her stripes in public administration.
Before entering the Zanzibari legislature, she was the head of an umbrella group that oversaw NGOs in Tanzania.