The former president, John Magufuli, will be laid to rest tomorrow in a Tanzanian state funeral. The chief mourner is the new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who recently told the BBC, “It’s possible that some people take my soft-spoken nature as a sign of weakness, but to make them understand you doesn’t mean you have to shout.”
A respected African think-tank said today that Magufuli’s death in the face of Suluhu’s modest demeanor “has thrown the East African nation into a period of political uncertainty.” Here’s why:
The former president has “officially died” of heart failure. But the world knows he died of Covid. He had declared the country free of Covid in May when he stopped reporting statistics to WHO and kicked out a few ambassadors.
A few weeks later he forced through Parliament a law that required immediate imprisonment for anyone who simply said the word, “covid.” It was an extension of an already Draconian 2018 law that required imprisonment for anyone who questioned any of the government’s statistics.
Recently the vice-president of Zanzibar died of covid. Then Magufuli’s own top aid died of covid. But still, the “country is free of the virus.”
Magufuli had popular success among many Tanzanians for having routed out the corruption at the top which has plagued Tanzania for decades. The result was some modest economic improvement and a noticeable decline in corruption.
Police at the horrid “check-posts” were no longer as predatory, and that alone, can seal Magufuli’s popularity. It was not long before the average Tanzanian would believe anything the president would say.
There is every indication that Hassan will be more democratic. She has already invited back a number of investors and foreign countries who had fled, or been kicked out, on whims of the former president.
But many believe these overtures are new seeds of corruption. Hassan’s soft-spokenness may, indeed, reflect inner strength. But outwardly there are indications the cabal of men around here, particularly the suddenly very public former president Kikwete, may have too much influence over her already.
There remains a serious pandemic in the country. To address this the way she should would be a patent admission of Magufuli’s foolishness if not pure insanity. No one expects she’s going to rush into this. But balancing the big lie against better aspirations seems almost impossible.
It’s been less than two weeks since Magufuli’s dramatic death following ten days of government denial that he was sick. The skies are clearing. But the atmosphere looks dire for East Africa’s first woman leader.