Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in Friday as the country’s first female president. This makes Hassan the only woman in Africa to currently be the head of her country. She is also one of only a handful of women to ever hold a comparable position in the continent.
Hassan’s inauguration comes just two days after she announced the death of her predecessor, President John Magufuli.
The first major test for Samia Suluhu Hassan as President will be how she chooses to handle the coronavirus pandemic. Her predecessor, John Magufuli was the source of much controversy, publicly and consistently denying that the virus has been a problem in Tanzania throughout his presidency.
While the government has asserted that Magufuli’s official cause of death was heart complications, many of his skeptics have conjectured that his death was actually covid-related, as the president had not been seen in public for over two weeks before his death was announced.
As President, Samia Suluhu Hassan has the opportunity to bring about change in Tanzania’s pandemic response and in its other potentially problematic practices. During his presidency, her predecessor did not promote social distancing and made no effort toward obtaining a vaccine for Tanzanians.
Hassan’s style of leadership is very different from that of her predecessor who has worn the nickname “bulldozer.” In contrast to Magufuli’s brashness, Hassan is viewed by many as being more soft-spoken and level-headed.
Human Rights Watch said that President John Magufuli’s death provides an “opportunity for the new leadership in Tanzania to take concrete steps to reverse the country’s downward human rights trajectory and ensure accountability for past abuses.”
It is impossible to know how Samia Suluhu Hassan will govern as President and whether or not she will steer the country toward a different trajectory than her predecessor. However, many are optimistic that Hassan can bring about progress, not just by being the first female president, but also in the way that she chooses to govern.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan called for national unity, saying at her Friday inauguration, “This is the time to stand together and get connected. It’s time to bury our differences, show love to one another and look forward with confidence.”
In the coming months and years, Hassan can either fall back on unjust practices of censorship and repression or be a catalyst for change, building toward a better Tanzania.