Tanzania swears by Samia Suluhu Hassan as its first female president

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Residents watch the televised announcement of the death of Tanzanian President John Magufuli, addressed by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Dar es Salaam

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as President on Friday and became the East African country’s first female head of state following the death of President John Magufuli, Africa’s most vocal COVID-19 skeptic.

The 61-year-old Hassan was sworn in at the State House in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. She takes over the presidency following the announcement of Magufuli’s death on Wednesday after more than two weeks’ absence from public life, which sparked speculation about his health.

In a statement, the presidency said Hassan would address the nation after he was sworn in and also hold a cabinet meeting.

Magufuli’s absence since Feb.27 had sparked rumors that he contracted the disease, despite officials denying he was ill. Hassan said he died of heart disease.

Hassan has been described as a quiet consensus-maker and will also be the country’s first president to be born in Zanzibar, the archipelago that is part of the Union of the Republic of Tanzania.

Her leadership style is seen as a possible contrast to Magufuli, a brazen populist nicknamed the “bulldozer” for engaging in politics and for criticizing his intolerance of dissent, which his government denied.

The new president will be tasked with healing a country that was polarized during the Magufuli years, analysts said, and building her own political base to govern effectively.

Hassan will also face a decision on whether to source COVID-19 vaccines for the country of 58 million people. Under Magufuli, the government said it would not source vaccines until the country’s own experts review them.

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