Tanzania: Samia Suluhu – the VP Who May Become Tanzania’s First Female President

Tanzanians look set to have their first female president in history in Vice President Samia Suluhu following the death John Pombe Magufuli on Wednesday.

Ms Suluhu said Magufuli died on Wednesday at Muzena Hospital in Dar es Salaam after suffering heart complications.

It now means that Ms Suluhu, 62, is expected to ascend to the highest office in the land, as per Tanzanian law.

Article 37 of Tanzania’s Constitution says the VP takes over for the remainder of the term and will be eligible to contest another term.

In Tanzania though, there is never doubt about succession. But a sick President presented a new dilemma.

Officials, for weeks, denied rumours of an indisposed president, but failed to present him to an anxious public. His death settles the rumour mill. But now, the succession.

If she takes over, Ms Suluhu will become the second woman in the East African region to be President. She will be the first Zanzibari since Ali Hassan Mwinyi to lead the United Republic.

However, the same law does say that an ill President doesn’t necessarily mean the president’s seat is vacant.

Ms Suluhu, nonetheless, is only the second woman VP in the region, after Uganda’s Specioza Kazibwe. Aged 61, she is also the tenth Vice President of the country.


Her early political career was honed in semi-autonomous Zanzibar where she served in the Cabinet. A public administrator educated in Tanzania, India, Pakistan, and the US, Ms Suluhu has been the face of Tanzania at international functions, often travelling on behalf of President Magufuli, who rarely ventured out of the country.

Under Kikwete, she served as Minister for Union Affairs between Mainland and Zanzibar.

But can she ascend to power proper?

Magufuli, nicknamed the Bulldozer for pushing through projects when he worked as Minister for Works, had often said he would leave after his term ends, signaling an age-old tradition of handing over power to the next in line.

But some political analysts in Tanzania say the perceived plan was to have Mwinyi’s son, current Zanzibari President Hussein Mwinyi, take over after Magufuli goes.

“If Ms Suluhu takes over, she will roil the political succession plan. The law is on her side, but she must now cultivate acceptance,” said a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam, who chose to speak anonymously for safety reasons.