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Samia Hassan Poised to Become Tanzania's First Woman President

Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, right, speaks during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania, March 16, 2021.
Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, right, speaks during a tour of the Tanga region of Tanzania, March 16, 2021.

Following Wednesday’s death of Tanzanian President John Magufuli, attention is shifting to his successor.

The next in line, according to Tanzania’s Constitution, is the vice president. That would make Samia Suluhu Hassan the first female leader of the East African nation since its independence from Britain in late 1961.

There was no indication as of Thursday that Hassan has been sworn in as president.

“It is too early to talk about that … after the loss of our great leader,” Wilson Masilingi, Tanzania’s ambassador to the United States, told VOA in a brief phone call Thursday. “… We are grieving now. … We can’t even talk about succession.”

Asked who was leading the country, he said, “The vice president is in an acting capacity, according to our Constitution. … It is a constitutionally governed country.”

The ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has announced a special meeting of its central committee set for Saturday, according to the Reuters news service.

Hassan, 61, has served as vice president since Magufuli’s election in 2015. He won a second five-year term in last October’s election that his political rivals and the United States criticized for irregularities.

Hassan, a CCM member, would be expected to complete Magufuli’s second term. She announced his death Wednesday, attributing it to heart problems. The president, outspoken in dismissing any threat of the coronavirus, had been out of public view since February 27.

She’s “the most underrated politician in Tanzania,” National Assembly member January Makamba said of Hassan, according to the BBC. "I have observed at close quarters her work ethic, decision-making and temperament. She is a very capable leader."

Makamba is also a member of the ruling party.

Commonly referred to as Samia, Hassan was born in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous region, on January 27, 1960. She began her political career in 2000 with election to the Zanzibar House of Representative. She was immediately appointed minister of trade and tourism by then-President Amani Karume, becoming the only woman in a senior ministerial position in the Cabinet.

In 2010, Hassan won a seat in Tanzania’s national parliament. Her journey in national politics began in 2014, when she was selected by then-President Jakaya Kikwete as the country’s minister for union affairs.

That same year, Hassan was elected vice chairperson of the constitutional assembly, playing a key role in drafting the country’s new constitution; however, it failed to pass in the assembly.

Hassan studied both at home and abroad, earning her first degree at Mzumbe University in Tanzania and later higher learning at the University of Manchester in Britain, earning a degree in economics and later an online degree from Southern New Hampshire University in the United States. That university’s registrar’s office did not respond to a phone call Thursday for information on the degree.

Hassan is married to Hafidh Ameir, a retired agricultural officer. Their daughter, Wanu Hafidh Ameir, serves in the Zanzibar House of Representatives, as Hassan did. The couple also have three sons.

Carol Guensburg of VOA’s Africa Division contributed to this report.