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Tanzania’s first female leader urges unity after death of COVID-sceptic Magufuli

Nairobi: Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Friday the country should unite and avoid pointing fingers after the death of John Magufuli, her COVID-19 sceptic predecessor, urging the east African country to look forward with hope and confidence.

Wearing a red hijab, she took her oath of office on the Koran in a ceremony at State House in the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam. She is the first female head of state in the country of 58 million.

Tanzania’s new president Samia Suluhu Hassan is sworn in at State House in Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania’s new president Samia Suluhu Hassan is sworn in at State House in Dar es Salaam.Credit:AP

Hassan, vice president since 2015, gave a brief and sombre address after she was sworn in, addressing a heavily male crowd that included two former presidents and uniformed officers.

“This is a time to bury our differences, and be one as a nation,” she said. “This is not a time for finger pointing, but it is a time to hold hands and move forward together.”

The remarks appeared aimed at dispelling a mood of uncertainty that developed after Magufuli, criticised by opponents as a divisive and authoritarian figure, disappeared from public view for 18 days before his death was announced.

Samia Suluhu Hassan inspects the guard of honour after being sworn in.

Samia Suluhu Hassan inspects the guard of honour after being sworn in.Credit:AP

His absence from public life drew speculation he was critically ill with COVID-19. Magufuli died of heart disease, Hassan said when announcing his death on Wednesday.

Among the first tasks facing Hassan, 61, will be a decision on whether to procure COVID-19 vaccines. Under her predecessor, the government said it would not obtain any vaccines until the country’s own experts had reviewed them.

She will also be faced with the task of healing a country polarised during the Magufuli years, analysts said, and building her own political base to govern effectively.

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