Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe on Thursday joined other African leaders for the inauguration of the new president of Tanzania, John Pome Magufuli.
Mr. Magufuli, who takes over from Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, will be deputized by Ms. Samia Suluhu Hassan from Zanzibar who becomes the first female vice president.
Mr. Magufuli’s win in the October 25th ballot with over 58% of votes cemented the long-running Chama Cha Mapinduzi party's firm grip on power though the opposition Chadema led by Edward Lowassa ran a very strong campaign.
Addressing his nation after taking the oath of office, Mr. Magufuli promised to fulfil his campaign promises.
"I promise to work to the best of my ability to deliver our election pledges.We are aware of the trust and enormous responsibility that you have assigned us ... but with God's guidance, people's cooperation and goodwill our nation can prosper."
Other presidents present at the ceremony were Edgar Lungu of Zambia, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Chief of the Voice of America’s Swahili Service, Mwamoyo Hamza, said the presence of many leaders shows how Tanzania is highly rated by fellow African nations.
“It shows the ties that exist among these countries and also the value that they place on Tanzania as one of the leading nations in terms of resolving issues around the region.”
Hamza said the election is significant for Africa, a continent that has struggled to hold free and fair elections and change leadership.
“It is very significant, most important because of the term limits Tanzania has been practicing for many years now, and President Kikwete has been saying this again and again when he is around other political leaders from the region insisting on term limits.”
Mr. Magufuli is the fifth president of Tanzania; the other previous leaders are Julius Nyerere, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Mr. Kikwete.
But Mr. Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country got independence in 1980.
In June speaking at the opening session of the African Union assembly of Heads of State in South Africa, Mr. Mugabe slammed the two-term limits saying they are being imposed on African leaders.
“We (in Africa) put a rope around our own neck and say leaders must only have two terms,” he said, in apparent reference to Burundi where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for an unconstitutional third time has thrown the East African country into chaos.
Mr. Mugabe himself has served seven terms and the new constitution now restricts presidential term limits to two.
However, President Mugabe’s first term under the new charter started in 2013 and he is eligible to run for another term in 2018.
He said two terms could feel as short as two weeks. “It is a democracy, if people want a leader to continue, let him continue,” he said.
The president of the United States Barack Obama in an historic address to the African Union in July, however, urged African leaders to observe constitutional limits and to allow leadership renewal.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi,” Mr. Obama said.
“The law’s the law … no one person’s above the law,” he said, and alluded to the fact that he would step down at the end of his current term, even if he felt he still had more to offer the American electorate.
“But if a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country.”
“I don’t understand why people want to stay so long, especially when they have so much money,” he said in Addis Ababa, as he blasted the president’s-for-life agenda.
Political analyst and former Zimbabwe diplomat to Ethiopia, Clifford Mashiri observed that Harare has a lot to learn from Dare es Salaam in terms of democracy.
“It’s showing us the renewal of governments in Southern Africa in comparison with Zimbabwe. Tanzanians have changed leaders’ since the death of Mwalimu (Nyerere). Its surprising that Zimbabwe is not drawing lessons from those who sponsored the liberation struggle.”
Some Zimbabweans have urged President Mugabe to cut his numerous foreign trips, which according to reports is costing the cash-strapped country millions of dollars.
But the country's Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has defended Mr. Mugabe's trips abroad, saying he (Mugabe) was a "diligent person discharging his duties as head of African regional blocs".
Mr. Mugabe is the current African Union chair and previously he chaired SADC.
But Mashiri said the trip to Tanzania for the 91 year-old Mr. Mugabe is not justified.
“This is a very important occasion but it doesn’t justify Mr. Mugabe attending in person. The country is struggling; its fiscas is not in order and at the same time Mr. Mugabe has shown that he is not in the best of health of late. It’s surprising that he would not let a deputy, or just an ambassador in Tanzania to represent him like other governments do.”
Mr. Mugabe raised concern among Zimbabweans following an embarrassing stumble in India in which Indian head of state Narendra Modi had to help the 91-year-old walk toward him. Mr. Mugabe was attending the India-Africa Summit.
But Mr. Mugabe’s handlers reacted to the incident by releasing a statement calling Mr. Mugabe “heroic” for visiting India and calling the fall itself “a very minor incident.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Mugabe also accidentally delivered a wrong 30-minute speech before parliamentarians, triggering rumors of increased senility.
Mr. Mugabe has fallen in public before. In February, he fell at the Harare International Airport. Former Information tsar, Jonathan Moyo, now Higher Education minister denied the incident occurred, telling the state media that Mr. Mugabe "managed to break the fall."