Samia Suluhu Hassan to make history as she is set to become Tanzania’s first female president. A former office clerk and development worker, Hassan began her political career in 2000 in her native Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago, before being elected to the national assembly on mainland Tanzania and assigned a senior ministry.
Samia Suluhu Hassan is a soft-spoken, Muslim woman thrust from the obscure role of the vice president to become Tanzania’s first female leader after John Magufuli‘s sudden death. Under the constitution, Hassan, the country’s 61-year-old vice president, will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025.
A ruling party stalwart, she rose through the ranks until being picked by Magufuli as his running mate in his first presidential election campaign in 2015. The Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) comfortably won and Hassan made history when sworn-in as the country’s first-ever female vice president.
The pair were re-elected last October in a disputed poll the opposition and independent observers said was marred by irregularities.
She would sometimes represent Magufuli on trips abroad but many outside Tanzania had not heard of Hassan until she appeared on national television wearing a black headscarf to announce that Magufuli had died at 61 following a short illness.
In a slow and softly spoken address — a stark contrast to the thundering rhetoric favoured by her predecessor — Hassan solemnly declared 14 days of mourning. She will consult the CCM over the appointing of a new vice president.
Analysts say Hassan will face early pressure from powerful Magufuli allies within the party, who dominate intelligence and other critical aspects of government, and would try and steer her decisions and agenda. “For those who were kind of expecting a breakaway from the Magufuli way of things I would say hold your breath at the moment,” said Thabit Jacob, a researcher at the Roskilde University in Denmark and expert on Tanzania.
“I think she will struggle to build her own base… We shouldn’t expect major changes.”
In 2010, she was elected to the National Assembly on mainland Tanzania. Then-president Jakaya Kikwete appointed her as the Minister of State for Union Affairs.
She holds university qualifications from Tanzania, Britain and United States. The mother of four has spoken publicly to encourage Tanzanian women and girls to pursue their dreams.
“I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say,” Hassan said in a speech last year.
Hassan would be the only other current serving female head of state in Africa alongside Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, whose role is mainly ceremonial.