Tanzania has a new female Muslim leader

Samia Suluhu Hassan. PIc: BBC

Samia Suluhu Hassan has been sworn in as the first female President of Tanzania after the sudden death of John Magufuli.

Hassan, 61, previously served as Vice President in Magufuli’s administration.

Tanzania has a population of around 62 million people. It is a majority Christian nation but has a sizeable Muslim minority of around 35%.

“I, Samia Suluhu Hassan, promise to be honest and obey and protect the constitution of Tanzania,” she said at a ceremony in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, this morning.

In her first public address as President, she announced 21 days of mourning for Magufuli and public holidays on March 22 and March 25, the day the late president will be buried.

“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” said Hassan. “Today I have taken an oath different from the rest that I have taken in my career. Those were taken in happiness. Today I took the highest oath of office in mourning.”

Described as a softly spoken consensus builder, Hassan has become the East African country’s first female president and the first to be born in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island in the Indian Ocean that forms part of the union of the Republic of Tanzania.

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Hassan rose through the ranks over a 20-year political career from local government to the National Assembly. A stalwart in the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), 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.

Despite being Vice-President since 2015, and having served as a state minister in the previous government, little is known about Hassan’s private life.

She was born in January 1960 on Zanzibar and later went on to study public administration, first in Tanzania and then as a post-graduate at Manchester University.

In 1978, she married Hafidh Ameir, who is known to be an agricultural academic but has also kept a low profile. Since Ms Samia became vice-president, the two have not been pictured together. They have four children with one, Mwanu Hafidh Ameir, who is currently a member of Zanzibar House of Representatives.

In recent years Tanzania has reoriented itself towards China and away from the West.

Magufuli also largely rejected the existence of COVID-19 in Tanzania, declaring the outbreak over in Tanzania in June 2020 while dismissing the need for vaccines.

Magufuli started to weaken that position in February 2021 amid criticism from Christian leaders and several high-profile deaths that were likely linked to COVID-19 complications.

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