Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in Friday as the country’s first female president, two days after the death of President John Magufuli, one of Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 skeptics, was announced.
Hassan took the oath at the statehouse in the city of Dar es Salaam in a televised ceremony on state TV. Few in the full room were wearing face coverings.In an address shortly after she was sworn in, Hassan said Magufuli’s body would be moved to several locations around the country over the next few days for private and public farewell events.He will then be laid to rest in his hometown, Chato, on March 25, she said.
Hassan announced the death of Magufuli, age 61, in a televised address Wednesday in which she said he “died of a heart ailment that he has battled for over 10 years.”The announcement ended days of speculation about his health, including rumors that he was suffering from Covid-19. Magufuli had not been seen since February 27.Described as a soft-spoken consensus-builder, Hassan will also be the country’s first president born in Zanzibar, the archipelago that forms part of the union of the Republic of Tanzania, Reuters reports.
Her leadership style is seen as a potential contrast from Magufuli, a brash populist who earned the nickname “Bulldozer” for muscling through policies and who drew criticism for his intolerance of dissent, which his government denied.She will be faced with the task of healing a country that was polarized during the Magufuli years, analysts told Reuters, and building her own political base to govern effectively.
Hassan must also decide whether to procure Covid-19 vaccines for the country of 58 million people. Under Magufuli, the government said it would not procure any vaccines until the country’s own experts had reviewed them.
Early on in the pandemic, Magufuli dismissed the seriousness of Covid-19 in Tanzania, urging his citizens to “pray coronavirus away,” believing the “satanic virus can’t live in the body of Jesus Christ,” and blaming the growing number of positive cases on faulty test kits.
In June, he claimed his country had eradicated coronavirus “by the grace of God,” questioned the safety of foreign Covid-19 vaccines and instead pushed for the use of herbal medicine and steam treatments.
Tanzania hasn’t reported Covid-19 figures for close to a year, prompting the World Health Organization to call for its government to publish data on the coronavirus and step up public health measures.
Last month, the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned that Covid-19 cases had been surging since January.