Samia Suluhu Hassan made history Friday when she was sworn in as Tanzania’s first female president after the death of her controversial predecessor, John Magufuli.
Wearing an Hijab and holding up a Quran with her right hand, the 61-year-old Hassan took the oath of office at State House, the government offices in Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city.
The inauguration was witnessed by Cabinet members, former presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Kikwete.
Speaking at her inauguration, Samia gave little indication that she intended to change course from Magufuli.
“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” said Samia, speaking Kiswahili. “Today I have taken an oath different from the rest that I have taken in my career. Those were taken in happiness. Today I took the highest oath of office in mourning,” she said.
She said that Magufuli, “who always liked teaching,” had prepared her for the task ahead. “Nothing shall go wrong,” she assured, urging unity.
“This is the time to stand together and get connected. It’s time to bury our differences, show love to one another and look forward with confidence,” she said. “It is not the time to point fingers at each other but to hold hands and move forward to build the new Tanzania that President Magufuli aspired to.”
Samia will complete Magufuli’s second term that began in October. She has had a meteoric rise in politics in a male-dominated field.
Both Tanzania and the surrounding East African region are slowly emerging from patriarchy.
After Magufuli selected her as his running mate in 2015, Samia became Tanzania’s first female vice president. She was the second woman to become vice president in the region, after Uganda’s Specioza Naigaga Wandira who was in office from 1994 to 2003.
Born in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago, in 1960, Samia went to primary school and secondary school at a time when very few girls in Tanzania were getting an education as parents thought a woman’s place was that of wife and homemaker.
After graduating from secondary school in 1977, Hassan studied statistics and started working for the government, in the Ministry of Planning and Development.
She worked for a World Food Program project in Tanzania in 1992 and then attended the University of Manchester in London to earn a postgraduate diploma in economics.
In 2005, she earned a master’s degree in community economic development through a joint program between the Open University of Tanzania and Southern New Hampshire University in the US.
Hassan went into politics in 2000 when she became a member of the Zanzibar House of Representatives.
In 2010, she won the Makunduchi parliamentary seat with more than 80 per cent of the vote.
She was appointed a Cabinet minister in 2014 and became vice-chairperson of the Constituent Assembly that drafted a new constitution for Tanzania, a role in which she won respect for deftly handling several challenges.
As president, Samia’s first task will be to unite the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party behind her, said Ed Hobey-Hamsher, senior Africa analyst with the Verisk Maplecroft research firm. The party has been in power since Tanzania’s independence.
Samia is the second woman in East Africa to serve as head of state.
Burundi’s Sylvia Kiningi served as interim president of that tiny landlocked country for nearly four months until February 1994.