On Friday, 19 March 2021, Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president. Expatiating more on the demise and funeral arrangements of Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli during the change of guard, Suluhu Hassan’s speech yielded very little of what to expect from her presidency.
Climbing the political ranks from an activist to Member of Parliament for Makunduchi in 2010 and holding cabinet posts such as Minister of State for Union Affairs for the Vice-President’s Office, Hassan alongside Magufuli spearheaded Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s victory to become Tanzania’s first female Vice President in 2015.
Samia, who is said to be a stark contrast to her predecessor because of her soft-spoken nature, has Tanzania and the world eager for how she will handle issues that Magufuli once dealt with in an unorthodox way.
The late president Magufuli went into power as a charismatic leader who was unafraid of speaking his mind about corruption in Tanzania. Championed as the man who would salvage Tanzania from poverty, Magufuli was nicknamed The Bulldozer because of his infrastructure plans for Tanzania and his bullish demeanor, becoming more popular when he barred government officials from travelling abroad, himself leading by example by never travelling outside Africa.
As Magufuli saw out his first-term, his gagging of the press and the opposition, and his remarks about not allowing pregnant schoolgirls back to school revealed a side only few would have predicted. Further, his cancellations of projects funded by China and imposition of a hefty tax bill on Acacia Mining, a Canadian gold mining company, conveyed a message to the West and foreign investors that it wasn’t business as usual anymore.
Magufuli’s contrarian imprint was stamped when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. He emerged as one of the staunchest critics of guidelines set for mitigating its spread. The Bulldozer’s stance – declaring that Tanzania will be protected by God and barring health officials from talking about the extent of the pandemic – led Tanzania to be one of the few countries in the world that did not provide statistics of confirmed Covid-19 cases. Magufuli’s scepticism on the vaccine, saying that people vaccinated elsewhere brought the virus to Tanzania, furthered the signs of a man who did not trust science, despite holding a doctorate in Chemistry.
Now – with how Magufuli handled the pertinent issues such as freedom of the press, gender equality, foreign policy and coronavirus – Hassan is left with a herculean task of whether to continue in Magufuli’s maverick ways or charter her own path.
Even though Samia, in a previous speech, modestly admitted that becoming Vice-President wasn’t in her cards, it would be naive to assume that Madam President climbed the ranks as a ceremonial figure. Samia’s self-efficacy would also camouflage her credentials as a potent leader. But her remarks on being a gaffer focused on relevant issues and not the side-shows, such as flippant comments about her gender, gives Tanzanians hope that they have a gem at the helm of their republic.
Moreover, how Hassan will handle the most trivial issues, like asking the citizens to wear facemasks, will set precedence as to how the next four years of her reign will unravel. And as someone who, in her own words, went into Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) because she wanted to hold ministers accountable, Hassan’s approach will also confirm if she is a pawn in the CCM politics or a substantive queen on the chessboard.
With former president Jakaya Kikwete by her side and a robust constitution in place, the commander-in-chief has Magufuli’s wrongs to right. Even though Magufuli, a radical nationalist who was said to be a man after Nyerere’s heart, terribly failed when it came to Covid-19, Samia Suluhu Hassan was still part of his regime. Time will tell if she will continue with the legacy of the man she so passionately eulogised during the state funeral, or if she will have the courage of her convictions to be her own woman.