The arrival of a vice-president into the top seat is often preceded by tragedy. Theodore Roosevelt took charge in the US after the 1901 assassination of then president William McKinley; Tanzania’s vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan followed suit after the death of John Magufuli in March 2021. The late president is largely believed to have died of complications from Covid-19, the disease he thought could be cured by prayers and herbal steam therapy.
To move out of the shadow of her larger-than-life predecessor, Hassan has undertaken a series of slow-moving policy changes that have altered the country’s trajectory – on health, on Tanzania’s international relationships, on political freedom and economic openness.
Magufuli’s ‘Bulldozer’ reign was initially lauded for delivering some of the promises of economic nationalism: the government renegotiated bad deals with mining companies and rolled out a new legal framework for the mining sector, with the World Bank’s assistance. But politically, it quickly descended into brutal authoritarianism.
Enter President Hassan: the first woman president in East Africa, and from Zanzibar, Tanzania’s island subordinate, to boot.
Certain lazy initial assessments said these factors would make hers a weak presidency, perhaps in hock to the security services. But Hassan has pushed back and brought new members into her team.