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Will Tanzania’s New President Break With Magufuli’s Leadership?


Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan is seen after taking oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, March 19, 2021. (Tanzania State House Press/Handout via Reuters)

Critics of the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli are hoping his crackdowns on press freedom and opposition and his coronavirus denial have gone with him to the grave. A week after his death, it's not yet clear if his successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, will carry on his authoritarian-leaning style of leadership.

Tanzania has undergone a smooth transition process following the death of president John Magufuli early in his second term.

Former vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan has taken over as the sixth president of Tanzania and will finish out Magufuli’s term, which ends in 2025.

The new leadership will be passing through a period of filling the gaps that were mostly criticized during Magufuli’s term. Speaking at Magufuli’s funeral, the new president told Tanzanians there is nothing to worry about.

"Let me say something here," she said. "For those who have doubts that this woman, if can handle being a president, I want to tell them that the one who is standing here in front of you is the president of Tanzania."

Opposition politicians, such as James Mbatia, the chairperson of the National Convention for Construction and Reform, say that if the new president cooperates with the opposition, there will be no tension between them and the ruling party.

"Last year’s general election left big scars in the history of the multiparty system in Tanzania," Mbatia said. "The election hurt people, people died, and others were denied their rights. People started to preach opposition is enemy while we had already moved from there."

"The best way to help Samia Suluhu to get out of this deep hostility is to have a reconciliation table, because we are not here due to hostility or to disrupt the country," he said. "If she uses her political will, he says, I think this can be achieved."

During Magufuli’s time in office, human rights activists criticized him for suppressing dissent and freedom of expression. Rights activists, like Kumbusho Kagine, say the new administration must allow a reopening of debate and public space.

"In the previous leadership, we criticized a lot on issues concern suppression of human rights, but for a period of five years there has been the enactment of oppressive laws that suppress rights activists, media, and social media users," he said.

"That was the main thing, that is them criticize Magufuli’s leadership. What we expect that Samia’s leadership will do, and we will also be vocal on that, is to remove all oppressive laws," he said.

Since 2015, Tanzania enacted strict laws on cybercrimes and media services. The laws allow authorities to directly suspend media outlets and charge journalists with sedition for publishing material deemed misleading, false or a threat to peace.

Journalists hope that under the president, they can they do their jobs freely.

Sophia Malaki, a freelance journalist in Tanzania, says the new president should ensure journalists have freedom so they can reveal challenges in the society and speak out. She believes Hassan will hear them.

"There are some people who think that when a journalist writes a critical story, they are the opposition. It’s nothing like that," she said.

Tanzanian citizens are waiting to see how their new president chooses to lead the country. Many believe that the leadership style of President Hassan will be in sharp contrast to that of the late Magufuli.

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