Tanzania makes history as the country’s new hijab-wearing president takes the reigns and steps out of the shadow of John Magufuli’s Covid-19 denying presidency.

Tanzania has sworn its first female Muslim president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, days after she announced the death of her predecessor John Magufuli who suddenly died of a heart attack.

The 61-year-old politician was vice president under Magufuli’s presidency, and her sudden rise to the top of Tanzanian politics has made history in the country and the continent.

Magufuli was the continent’s most outspoken Covid-19 denier. His administration stopped counting coronavirus cases in April last year and the numbers have remained at 509 infections and 21 deaths ever since.

Hassan announced the death of Magufuli, also age 61, earlier in the week in a televised address where she said he died of a heart ailment that he had been battling for the last 10 years.

Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27, and there were rumors that he had been struck by Covid-19, given his denial of the pandemic.

President Samia inspects a guard of honor after being sworn in as the sixth president of Tanzania. Photo ©:Tanzania State House

In a televised swearing-in ceremony, Hassan, who is also affectionately known as Mama Samia, in a sign of high respect that she is held in the country, described her sorrow at the events leading to her inauguration.

“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” she said, adding that “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.”

Hassan, an economist by training, has been described as a consensus builder and a soft-spoken politician. Her premiership is likely to introduce a different tone in Tanzanian politics, and she may even seek a break from the late president’s style of governance, which was marked by long televised speeches and brazen populism.

Under the constitution, she will serve the remainder of the term until 2025 after winning elections last year. Hassan is the third Muslim president in the country’s history and joins Ethiopia’s Sahle-Work Zewde as the second female president in Africa.

Unlike her Ethiopian counterpart, whose role is largely ceremonial, Hassan will have the opportunity to reshape the country in several ways.

The 61-year-old, dressed in a black suit and red headscarf, took the oath of office in Dar es Salaam. (Photo © AFP)

When Hassan was picked as a running mate of Magufuli, representing the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, she became the first female vice-presidential nominee. She then made history by becoming the first female vice president.

One of the first challenges that Hassan will have to deal with is the Covid-19 pandemic. Observers within the country and outside will consider her response to the pandemic as an early sign of how she intends to rule the country.

Hassan was born on January 27, 1960, in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous province of Tanzania. Many in Tanzania know little about their new president despite her role as vice president.

Known as an intensely private person, her lack of public profile may work in her favor as she seeks to make an impact on the country.

Hassan ran for public office for the first in 2000, where she was elected to Zanzibar’s House of Representatives. The mother of four has held a variety of posts in government and international organizations.

After she was elected in the early 2000s, she was one of the only female local government ministers, firstly serving as a youth employment minister, followed by overseeing the ministry of women and children and then tourism and trade investment.

Given her profile in development economics, she also spent a stint at the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in the 1990s.

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