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Vol 62 No 6

Published 18th March 2021


After Magufuli, a difficult transition

The ruling party's old guard is set to back Samia Suluhu Hassan against a security cabal which was in charge for the last week

After announcing the death from a 'heart condition' of President John Magufuli on the evening of 17 March, Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan returns to the urgent matter of the succession. Substantive but discreet talks have been in train for the past week – even as Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa was emphatically denying reports of Magufuli's illness.

Magufuli's death, whether or not the government eventually attributes it to Covid-19, along the loss of other senior state officials to the virus, is likely to speed a change in public health policy and attitudes to the pandemic. 

Earlier this month, the government sent Covax, set up by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and commercial backers, its first order for vaccines having earlier declined to join the programme. It is also sending data on Covid-19 cases in Tanzania to the World Health Organization in Brazzaville and Geneva after at first refusing to do so.

Suluhu Hassan has announced two weeks of official mourning for Magufuli. Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera made a fulsome eulogy on Magufuli's regional role, as did Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta. The most enthusiastic tribute outside the country so far has come from Kenya's former prime minister Raila Odinga. 

Under the constitution Suluhu Hassan should complete Magufuli's second and final term, which ends in 2025. No date has been set for her inauguration.

A low-key figure with a narrow political base she may struggle to consolidate power. Opposition activists see her as more conciliatory and collaborative than Magufuli and his allies. Leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency-Wazalendo, Zitto Kabwe, sent condolences to her shortly after she announced Magufuli's death.

After graduating from Mzumbe University in Tanzania, Suluhu Hassan worked for the UN's World Food Programme.  She studied public administration at postgraduate level at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, before returning to Tanzania to take up a political career, first as a member of the Zanzibar Assembly, then as Minister of State in the Vice-President's office for Union Affairs under the presidency of Jakaya Kikwete, who remains a close ally.

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has long been factionalised, complicating agreement on the next moves. The main forces in contention are the old guard in CCM and a group of securocrats composed of Magufuli ultra-loyalists. Until now, she was viewed as outside the ruling party's simmering factional contests. 

Under the constitution, parliament speaker Job Ndugai is next in line for the succession after Suluhu Hassan. He is said to have his own ambitions for the presidency, at least in the longer term. The constitution dictates that after being sworn in, the new president name a new Vice-President, who has to be approved by half of all MPs. Ndugai has already summoned the 393 assembly members to the capital, Dodoma. 

Suluhu Hassan has within her gift a number of parliamentary seats, which she could allocate to placate rival factions. She could also use these to make strategic cabinet appointments and boost her standing.

The dominant faction within the party is an old guard loyal to former President Jakaya Kikwete. Bolstered by the return of once-key party financier, Rostam Aziz, Kikwete's influence is set to increase (AC Vol 51 No 21, Kikwete marshals his troops). Also in this group is the former prime minister Edward Lowassa and former Secretary General of the CCM, Abdulrahman Kinana. They will push against some of the more unpopular Magufuli loyalists at the top of the party such as CCM Secretary for Ideology Humphrey Polepole.

Along with CCM Vice-Chairmen Philip Mangura and Ally Mohammed Shein, Polepole has announced there will be a special meeting of the party's central committee on 20 March in Dar-es-Salaam.

Other factions centre on Prime Minister Kassam Majaliwa, Local Government Minister Selemani Jafo and the former Environment Minister and Minister of State for Union Affairs, January Makamba. Makamba knows Suluhu Hassan well, calling her the 'most underrated politician in the country'.

Zanzibar president's Hussein Ali Mwinyi, who is the son of former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, is seen as a bridge between Magufuli loyalists and the CCM old guard and could play a key role in managing the transition. Mwinyi was to have presided at an official function, with Suluhu Hassan as guest, at State House in Zanzibar's Stone Town on 14 March. The event was cancelled because of Magufuli's health.

The securocracy, dominated by Magufuli loyalists, has kept a tight grip on the government in the past weeks and will try to protect their position in the new order. They include: Public Service head and Secretary General of the CCM, Bashiru Ally; former police chief and new Director General of the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service (TISS), Diwani Athumani; and Director of Operations at TISS, Frederick Kibuta. So far, Ally and Athumani have cooperated formally with Suluhu Hassan.

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