Tanzania’s vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn in as the country’s first woman president at State House in Dar es Salaam on Friday following the death of her predecessor, John Magufuli.
The 61-year old, affectionately known as Mama Samia, was first elected as Magufuli’s running mate in 2015 and re-elected as vice-president in October 2020 along with Magufuli. She will now serve out his remaining five-year term in office, according to the constitution.
Hassan also becomes Africa’s only woman national leader; Ethiopia’s president is a woman but the role is considered a ceremonial one.
She wore a hijab and held a Quran in her right hand as she took the oath at the State House. The inauguration was attended by a male-dominated crowd including former presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Kikwete.
“This is a time to bury our differences, and be one as a nation,” she said. “This is not a time for finger pointing, but it is a time to hold hands and move forward together,” she added, appearing to address Magufuli’s disappearance from the public view for more than two weeks before his death, according to Reuters.
While Hassan announced that Magufuli died of heart disease, there were rumors that the former president had contracted COVID-19, the New York Times reported. The former president was one of Africa’s most prominent coronavirus skeptics, denying the threats of the disease. During Magufuli’s presidency, Tanzania made no efforts to procure any vaccines or promote the use of masks and social distancing.
Tanzania also stopped reporting coronavirus data with the World Health Organization (WHO) since May 2020, according to BBC. The head of WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted congratulations to Hassan and said he looked forward to working with Hassan to end the pandemic.
Kamala Harris, first US woman vice president, also congratulated Hassan following her inauguration ceremony on Twitter writing, “Sending best wishes to @SuluhuSamia following her swearing in as Tanzania’s new President – the first woman to hold the office. The United States stands ready to work with you to strengthen relations between our countries.” Hassan’s presidency will face a major challenge with regards to the government’s handling of the pandemic.
In Tanzanian culture, the name Mama Samia reflects the respect Hassan holds, instead of lowering her to a gendered role.