Following the sudden death of President John Magufuli, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan will become the first Black female president in the history of Tanzania, leading the east African country with a population of more than 58 million.
President Magufuli, a staunch COVID-19 skeptic who rallied vehemently against the virus’s existence, disappeared from public view 18 days ago, sparking rumors about his health. Despite rampant speculation that he may have contracted the virus, the 61-year-old leader reportedly died on March 17 as a result of heart disease.
According to Al Jazeera, “under the constitution, Hassan will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025.”
Prior to her career in politics, Hassan was an office clerk and rose to project manager for the UN’s World Food Programme. In 2000, she sat on a special seat in Zanzibar’s House of Representatives before becoming a local government minister focusing on youth employment and women and children’s rights. In 2010, she was elected to Tanzania’s National Assembly. She became the surprise-pick for Magufuli’s running mate in 2015 when he began his first presidential campaign, leapfrogging over a number of much more well-known potential picks.
Magufuli is said to have selected her for her passion and intelligence. BBC News reported that Hassan, who is also 61, “is affectionately known as Mama Samia — in Tanzanian culture that reflects the respect she is held in, rather than reducing her to a gendered role.”
Surprisingly, BBC also noted that, despite her prominent political role, little is known about her private life. She was born in Zanzibar, has four children (one of whom serves on the Zanzibar House of Representatives), and has been married to an academic who specializes in agricultural studies. Yet, since becoming vice president, the BBC reported that “the two have not been pictured together.”
As president of Tanzania, Hassan will join a very select group of Black women leaders of a country, which includes Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, who briefly served as South Africa’s acting president in 2005; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had a 12-year run as President of Liberia between 2006 and 2018; Joyce Banda who was President of Malawi between 2012 and 2014; Catherine Samba-Panza who served as the interim President of the Central African Republic from 2014 to 2016; and Sahle-Work Zewde, the current President of Ethiopia.
A staunch supporter of women, Hassan has spoken passionately about Tanzanian women and girls, encouraging them to pursue their dreams. It’s a message she’ll likely bring with her as the nation’s president.
“I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say,” Hassan said in a 2020 speech.