It was one fateful evening when Samia Suluhu Hassan announced the demise of their beloved president Dr. John Pombe Magufuli. Grasping her breath with anxiety written all over her face, she announced that the president had died due to a cardiac failure. What a dark hour it was for Tanzania and Africa at large. Citizens were shaken by his death, their was a lot of weeping as they bid farewell to their President.
Born in 1952 in Chato Geita, John Pombe Magufuli was the 5th Tanzanian President. He had 5 children and was married to Janeth Magufuli. It is widely believed that Magufuli was one of the most influential African Presidents, he was passionate and committed to empowering Tanzania economically. South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa who was one of the African heads of state who attended Magufuli’s funeral stated, “I thought he was afraid of flights, he told me he would like to stay here to serve the people of Tanzania instead of traveling around,” – a statement that clearly reflects how Magufuli loved Tanzania and it’s people.
Magufuli had a strong economic and social policy which resulted in massive infrastructure development, encouraged equal education opportunities for both the boy and girl child, something which his predecessors had not executed quite well. As a Pan-Africanist, John Magufuli believed that the problems being faced by Africans can only be solved by Africans and that’s why he continuously resisted interference from western countries in Tanzania. At the time of his death, Magufuli was labelled a ‘controversial’ character, as he is one of the African Presidents who denied the existence of Covid 19 and called it a ‘thing of the West’, hence citizens in his country carried out their businesses as usual, without adhering to COVID-19 regulations such as masking, sanitizing and maintaining social distance.
Although the death of John Magufuli broke the hearts of citizens it also paved way for first female President to rule Tanzania. Samia Suluhu Hassan had served as Deputy President of Tanzania under the reign of Magufuli, as it is customary she was sworn in as President to finish Magufuli’s term. As the first female president of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan gave a moving speech at the funeral of John Magufuli. She gave hope to women of Tanzania and of Africa at large – that yes a woman can be a President and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“For those wondering whether this woman can be president of Tanzania, let me tell you that the president of Tanzania is here. Let me repeat, the president of Tanzania is standing here and she happens to be a woman,” said Samia Suluhu Hassan in a tone that reflects authority.
While some would like to argue that Suluhu Hassan will try to fill Magufuli’s shoes, it’s however a debatable matter. We think she is likely to walk this new journey that she has embarked on in her own shoes, while seeking to serve the people of Tanzania the best way she knows how. Madam President Suluhu Hassan might be the first female President in Tanzania, but she is not the first female to serve as President in Africa. For instance, Joyce Banda was the first female President in Malawi and she served from 2012-2014, having previously served as Vice President from 2009-2012.
You could say that the continent of Africa is slowly making strides in awarding women the opportunity to occupy highest positions in politics, but more still need to be done to change the narrative as many still doubt the ability of female leaders.