March 18, 2021


TANZANIA: Presidential succession legally straightforward, politically messy

BY Anne Frühauf

Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on reddit

Listen to our reports with a personalized podcasts through your Amazon Alexa or Apple devices audio translated into several languages

( 3 mins)

Late on 17 March, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on state broadcaster TBC that President John Magufuli had passed away from heart complications at a Dar es Salaam hospital. Ending nearly three weeks of speculation over the president’s health and whereabouts, Magufuli’s passing will usher in a political transition, which should be constitutionally straightforward but could be politically messy. At best, the change of power will allow for a reversal of Magufuli’s controversial pandemic policies and perhaps a loosening of his dirigiste economic policies in the long run.

The constitution provides for a relatively straightforward transition of power in the event of the president’s death: the vice-president is to be sworn in as president for the remainder of the five-year term (which, in this case, runs until 2025). Suluhu should therefore be catapulted to the top of Tanzanian politics – an unprecedented development because she would not only be the country’s first female president but would also be the very first head of state to hail from the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, rather than mainland Tanzania.

Suluhu’s role as VP, which she has held since 2015, was probably never intended as a stepping stone to the top job. Her only previous experience in mainland politics was as minister of state in the vice-president’s office. However, Magufuli’s aversion to foreign travel meant she was often Tanzania’s highest-ranking representative abroad, be it at the UN, the African Union (AU), or the East African Community (EAC). Her first decade in political office (2000-2010) was spent on Zanzibar, where she served as minister of youth employment, women and children development, and later as minister for tourism, trade, and investment.

Suluhu is not considered popular with different Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party factions. She may face particular opposition from Magufuli’s populist camp and mainland Christian nationalists. However, she might gain some support from the faction of former president Jakaya Kikwete, especially from Muslim communities. At worst, Magufuli’s faction could try to remove Suluhu from the succession process and replace her with the leader constitutionally next in line (the speaker of parliament, followed by the chief justice).

Assuming that Suluhu prevails, the selection of her vice-presidential replacement will become the focus of politicking. She would consult on the VP candidate with the CCM Central Committee (CC), which would then need to be confirmed by parliament. Rumors are that former attorney-general Andrew Chenge (implicated in a high-profile corruption case by the UK Serious Fraud Office in 2008) could become vice-president to secure support from the Magufuli faction. There are even rumors that Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa Majaliwa, an outsider appointment by Magufuli in 2015, could be replaced with CCM MP and possible future presidential contender January Makamba in a bid to appeal to younger constituencies.

As a result, concerns over Suluhu’s political weakness may prevail, particularly if the center of decision-making shifted from State House towards the CCM and the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS). Still, Magufuli’s exit could provide the first tentative opportunity for a political reset within the CCM, on which the populist president has had a Trump-like stranglehold. At best, Magufuli’s departure could trigger a course correction of his denialist Covid-19 policies and perhaps, after a period of uncertainty and factional realignments, of his radical ‘Ujamaa’-inspired economic policies.

More by

ZAMBIA: A string of positive news

( 3 mins) President Hakainde Hichilema today, 27 September, announced the return of Denny Kalyalya as governor of the Bank of Zambia (BoZ) with immediate effect. The move puts the BoZ in a safe pair of hands and

Read More »

ETHIOPIA: Piling on sanctions pressure

( 3 mins) US President Joe Biden today, 17 September, signed an executive order authorizing sanctions on Ethiopia. In the first instance, the order is an attempt to force ceasefire negotiations in the 10-month-old Tigray conflict. US Secretary

Read More »

Zambia: Hichilema’s honeymoon

( 5 mins) Freshly inaugurated President Hakainde Hichilema is riding a wave of goodwill. Yet the reform process ahead will undoubtedly be politically painful and administratively challenging; it will be measured by the next budget, IMF talks and

Read More »

ZAMBIA: Opposition landslide, daunting legacy

( 4 mins) Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has won the 12 August presidential election by a landslide, trouncing incumbent President Edgar Lungu by close to 1mn votes. Despite three days of tensions and suggestions that Lungu’s side might

Read More »

ETHIOPIA: Towards total war?

( 4 mins) Following a brief interlude in late June, the Tigray conflict has escalated and broadened, spilling across domestic borders and sucking in combatants from other Ethiopian regions. This intensifies the risk of worst-case scenarios – a

Read More »

ZAMBIA: High-stakes elections on 12 August

( 3 mins) General elections will take place on Thursday, 12 August. The recent deployment of the military highlights the risk of electoral violence around the high-stakes polls. As explained previously, the presidential election should be opposition leader

Read More »