By Khanyi Mlaba
Samia Suluhu Hassan has officially been sworn in as Tanzania’s first woman president after the unexpected death of former President John Magufuli on Wednesday March 17.
Hassan, who was previously the country’s vice president, automatically became acting president following the passing of Magufuli, and was officially sworn into the position two days later.
“I, Samia Suluhu Hassan, promise to be honest and obey and protect the constitution of Tanzania,” she vowed before dignitaries at a ceremony held in Dar es Salaam on Friday.
In her first order of business, the 61-year-old politician called for a 21 day national mourning period in honor of Magufuli, as well as public holidays to be established on March 22 and on March 25, the day when the late president is expected to be buried.
This is not the first time that Hassan will be making history in the country’s politics, as she was also Tanzania’s first female vice president-elect in 2015. She will serve as president for the remainder of what would have been Magufuli’s term.
Hassan is now the second woman currently serving as president on the continent, alongside Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde.
The newly sworn-in president said that her predecessor had prepared her for this time to come, and reassured the country as she spoke to unite her people on Friday morning.
Over the last year Tanzania has made international headlines as Magufuli denied that there were any COVID-19 cases in the country and refused to share pandemic-related information with the World Health Organization.
Magufuli publicly stated that the virus could be cured with prayer and promoted alternative medicines in the face of illness. He later went on to acknowledge the existence of the virus in the country, after the deaths of several government officials, but then insisted that if Tanzanians should wear masks, they must be locally made.
While the government announced that Magufuli had died of a heart condition, speculation has risen across the country that the former leader contracted COVID-19. Exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu is among those insisting that the president had become a victim of the very virus he denied.
Responding to these rumours in a national address on Friday, Hassan said: “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.”
“It is not the time to point fingers at each other but to hold hands and move forward to build the new Tanzania that President Magufuli aspired to,” she added.
While she did not speak to the country’s plan to tackle the coronavirus, citizens and officials alike will be waiting to see how she plans to handle the pandemic and its impacts on the country, and whether her response will contrast with Magufuli’s.