Tanzania's President John Magufuli died

President John Magufuli speaking, during a visit to Rwanda, 2016. photo by Paul Kagame/cc/www.flickr.com

According to the government, Dr. John Pombe Magufuli died of a heart condition at the age of 61. Previously, Magufuli had not appeared in public for 18 days. Speculation increased on social media and in the foreign press as to whether he might have been infected with the coronavirus. Magufuli himself has long downplayed the dangers posed by the pandemic. Instead, he stressed that there were no corona cases in the country - even at a time when many hospitals were already overcrowded and the number of abdications was also rising rapidly across the country.

The news of the death of President John P. Magufuli has caused consternation among the people of Tanzania. Rev. Willey Mwasile, president of the Moravian Church in Mbeya, partner church of Mission 21, has reacted with shock. "We are in great sorrow at the loss of the President of the United Republic of Tanzania. We call for prayers for his family and for the unity of our country."

Samia Suluhu Hassan sworn in as Magufuli's successor

According to the constitution, the current vice president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, 61, will take office as president. Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in by the country's chief justice on March 19. 

"Mama Samia," as the 61-year-old is reverently called by the population, had been the country's vice president since 2015. According to the Tanzanian constitution, she automatically succeeds the late Magufuli and can hold the office until the next election in 2025.

She is the first woman in the highest office of state and currently the only female president at the head of an African state. Her colleague Sahle-Work Zewde in Ethiopia has only a ceremonial function. 

Call for unity in Tanzania

Samia Suluhu Hassan comes from the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, making her the first Zanzibari to hold the highest office in the United Republic of Tanzania. She studied in India, England and the United States, among other places, and is considered a level-headed and committed politician. In her speech after being sworn in, she announced a 21-day state mourning following the death of her predecessor. In addition, in her first address, she called for unity in the country: "Let us move forward together." She also stressed that the oath of office was not easy for her: "Today is not a good day to speak to you. Because I have a hurt in my heart. The oath I took today is different from previous oaths," Hassan said, "These I took with joy. Today, however, I have had to assume the highest office of state at a time of sorrow."

One of the first tasks will be to fill important posts in the government. As a Muslim president from Zanzibar, she will presumably propose a Christian man from mainland Tanzania to the parliament for election as vice president, in accordance with the regional and religious balance practiced so far.

Mission 21 committed in Tanzania for decades

Mission 21's work in East Africa has roots that go back 130 years. Missionaries from the Herrnhut Mission, a supporting organization of Mission 21, began their work in the remote southern Tanzanian highlands in 1891. Together with our two partner churches, the Southwest and South Provinces of the Moravian Church in Tanzania, Mission 21 is committed to helping disadvantaged people. In rural regions, where state welfare is often ineffective, our partner churches maintain projects for a more just society. The focus is on education and health, especially for orphans and for the advancement of women. Mission 21 is confident that the project work will continue within the current framework; we will continue to support disadvantaged people in Tanzania together with our partner churches.

Text: Johannes Klemm, Program Officer Tanzania, Photo: Paul Kagame/flickr.com

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