With confirmed reports from Tanzania’s government of the passing on of f President John Magufuli, all eyes are now on vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan.
Could the hushed government voices be connected to the fact that there is much reluctance among elements of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party should she take over as president as per the constitution?
Prime minister Kassim Majaliwa told Tanzanians to ignore rumours about Magufuli’s health. His comments come at a time when many are urging the government to issue an official comment on Magufuli, who has not recently been seen in public.
Short of that, many are urging the government to follow the constitutional provisions to replace him should Magufuli prove unable to resume his presidential duties.
Article 37 of Tanzania’s constitution
Article 37 (2) states that when the cabinet finds that the president is unable to discharge the functions of his office by reason of physical or mental infirmity, it may submit to the chief justice a resolution requesting him to certify the president’s incapacity.
Upon receiving such a resolution, the chief justice must then appoint a medical board of no less than three people who are experts recognised as such by the law governing medical practitioners in Tanzania. This board is then tasked with making a determination and advising the chief justice accordingly.
The chief justice must then present the medical findings to the house speaker through a certificate that verifies the president is unable to perform his/her duties. At that point, it would be deemed that the president’s post is vacant and the vice-president would become president.
But Emanuel Kaniki, a constitutional lawyer based in western part of Tanzania, tells The Africa Report that it would difficult to follow through on Article 37 of the constitution under these circumstances: “There is no information that this man [President Magufuli] cannot perform his duties. And secondly, there is no official government statement. In such circumstances, it will be difficult to implement this article. You need to have enough evidence as stipulated by law and not merely rumours.”
The secretary general of the main opposition party Chadema, John Mnyika, says the government should tell people the truth: “The government should tell us where President Magufuli is and what his health situation is. He is a president and we want to see him fulfilling his obliged responsibilities.”
One ruling party official who asked not to be named, a member of parliament serving his first term and representing the southern part of Tanzania, says it is up to the ruling party to decide the future of the country: “Even if the vice-president is not popular within party factions, the constitution is clear. Regardless if some factions agree or not, the constitution matters. The transition process must take place.”
The ruling CCM has a long history of infighting, but this situation has a new twist, says a political analyst based in Dodoma.: “For a long time religious affiliation played a part within CCM politics. All factions needed to come together in order to maintain party stability. I hope CCM members will remember this because even Magufuli himself was not popular until he was elected as flag bearer.”
Who is Samia Suluhu Hassan?
61-year-old vice-president Hassan is from the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, which is about 99% Muslim.
She has been vice-president since 2015. Prior to that, she was a minister of state under the vice-president’s office. Hassan also served in the government of Zanzibar in different capacities.
She is not popular across the CCM’s different factions. According to a Tanzanian political analyst, hardline Magufuli supporters and Christian nationalists oppose her replacing him. Tanzania has never had a president who is from Zanzibar, which has experienced several contested elections in recent years.
According to a recent political risk report consulted by The Africa Report: “the relative weakness (in political terms) of Samia Suluhu will also contribute to a slowdown in decision-making. […] Such a transition of power may take many weeks.”
But other reports state that Hassan is backed by factions within the ruling party that support former president Jakaya Kikwete, especially those from Muslim communities.
The mystery continues
Modestus Kipilimba, Tanzania’s ambassador to Namibia and a former intelligence officer, was quoted by the Namibian national broadcaster NBC, as saying Magufuli is indeed fine and is in Tanzania continuing with his daily activities.
Despite several calls from The Africa Report, Hassan Abbas, the spokesperson of the Tanzanian government and Gerson Msigwam, the director of presidential communication, have not yet confirmed Magufuli’s health status and location.
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