Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president on Friday, two days after the government announced late president John Magufuli had died of heart failure.
Suluhu Hassan, up until now vice president, was sworn in by Chief Justice Ibrahim Juma at State House in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, making her the first woman in Tanzania and East Africa to hold the highest office.
The 61-year-old statistician, who hails from the island of Zanzibar, joined politics in 2000 and quickly rose the ranks, holding various ministerial posts.
Suluhu Hassan was elected vice-chair of the Constitutional Assembly in 2014 and shortly thereafter became Magufuli’s running mate for the 2015 general election, which led her to become vice president.
According to the constitution, Suluhu Hassan should hold the country’s highest office until the next election in 2025.
Magufuli’s death was accompanied by persistent rumours that the statesman died of Covid-19 after he had been absent from public view without explanation since the end of February.
The President had denied the existence of the coronavirus in the East African country. He downplayed the virus’ threat, recommending prayers and steam baths and urged the Health Ministry to be cautious with vaccines developed abroad, questioning their quick development.
The former German colony with a population of around 58 million has not published any new coronavirus infection figures since May 2020.
Magufuli is due to be buried in his hometown of Chato on March 25, Suluhu Hassan announced shortly after her swearing-in ceremony.
A public viewing of the late president’s body will take place in Dar es Salaam over the weekend and on Monday in the capital Dodoma, after which the remains will be flown to the north-western city of Mwanza and from there to Chato, she said.
Suluhu Hassan asked Tanzanians to maintain peace, unity and tranquility despite the sudden change in political leadership.
“This is not time to fight. It is time to heal the past wounds and stand together as a nation and look to build a strong future. It is not the time for pointing fingers at one another but fostering unity and strength,” she said.