Samia Suluhu’s rise to power
Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s president on March 19, 2021, making history the first woman to hold the top job in the East African country. Her ascent to power came barely two days after her predecessor’s unceremonious death, President John Magufuli. Hassan will complete Magufuli’s second five-year term in office, which began in October 2020 after winning the general elections.
Born in 1960, President Samia’s father was a schoolteacher, and her mother was a housewife. Hassan graduated from high school but has said publicly that her finishing results were poor, and she took a clerkship in a government office at 17.
S. Suluhu completed her secondary education in 1977 and began working. Subsequently, she pursued a number of short courses on a part-time basis. In 1986, she graduated from the Institute of Development Management (present-day Mzumbe University) with an advanced public administration diploma.
Between 1992 and 1994, she attended the University of Manchester and earned a postgraduate diploma in economics. In 2015, she obtained her MSc in Community Economic Development via a joint programme between the Open University of Tanzania and the Southern New Hampshire University.
First address as president
In her first public address as president, Suluhu Hassan, affectionately known as Mama Samia, said it was a difficult day in her political career.
“Today, I have taken an oath different from the rest that I have taken in my career,” she said. “Those were taken in happiness. Today I took the highest oath of office in mourning.”
However, she assured Tanzanians that J. Magufuli had prepared her for the task ahead and encouraged national unity.
“This is the time to stand together and get connected,” she said. “It’s time to bury our differences and show love to one another and look forward with confidence.”
Remarkable political journey
Suluhu Hassan began her political journey in 2000 after being elected as a special seat member of the Zanzibar House of Representatives and appointed a minister. At the time, she was the only high-ranking female minister in the Cabinet.
After serving two terms, she sought election to the National Assembly in 2010, winning the vote by more than 80%. President Jakaya Kikwete appointed her as the minister of state for union affairs. In 2014, she was elected as the Constitutional Assembly’s vice-chairperson tasked with drafting Tanzania’s new constitution.
In 2015, J. Magufuli selected Suluhu Hassan as his running mate — a surprise choice over many more prominent members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
Samia Suluhu Hassan is also the country’s first president born in semi-autonomous Zanzibar. She attended school when very few Tanzanian girls were offered education outside the traditional roles of wife and homemaker. She is also a practicing Muslim.
A new style of leadership?
S. Suluhu Hassan’s leadership style is purportedly quite different from Magufuli’s. The late president was dubbed “The Bulldozer” for his bold and rigid approach towards policymaking. In contrast, she is calm, soft-spoken, and described as a much more diplomatic political figure.
The first significant challenge facing Suluhu Hassan will be her government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic going forward.
Under John Magufuli, Tanzania adopted very few measures against the spread of COVID-19 and made no efforts to secure vaccines for its population.