First female president of Tanzania sworn in after death of Magufuli from mystery illness

Questions remain over the true cause of the late president’s death, after multiple rumours he had Covid-19 or had sought treatment abroad.

SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN has been sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president after the sudden death of John Magufuli from an illness shrouded in mystery.

The 61-year-old took the oath of office in Dar es Salaam before inspecting troops at a military parade and receiving a cannon salute.

Under the constitution, Hassan will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025.

She is the only other current serving female head of state in Africa alongside Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, whose role is mainly ceremonial.

Hassan was little known outside Tanzania until she appeared on state television on Wednesday night to announce that Magufuli had died aged 61 from a heart condition after a mysterious three-week absence from public view.

Questions remain over the true cause of his death, after multiple rumours he had Covid-19 or had sought treatment abroad. Magufuli was a prominent Covid-19 sceptic in Africa, stating last year that his country had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer. 

Tanzania has not reported its Covid-19 tallies of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020. However the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems reportedly grew and earlier this month the US embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of Covid cases in Tanzania since January.

Tanzania’s new president

Hailing from Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island in the Indian Ocean, Hassan rose through the ranks over a 20-year political career from local government to the national assembly.

She was named Magufuli’s running mate in the 2015 presidential campaign. The pair were re-elected in October last year in a disputed poll marred by allegations of irregularities.

She must now consult the party about appointing a new vice president. Analysts say she could face pressure from powerful Magufuli allies within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi, who dominate intelligence and other critical aspects of government, and could try and influence her decisions.

- © AFP 2021 with reporting from PA.

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