Tanzania’s new president to review COVID-19 stance, lifts media ban

FILE PHOTO: Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam
FILE PHOTO: Tanzania's new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

April 6, 2021

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania’s new president Samia Suluhu Hassan on Tuesday drew a line under her predecessor’s controversial stances on COVID-19 and the media, indicating an apparent change in course for the nation after the death of John Magufuli last month.

Hassan announced she was forming a committee to research whether Tanzania should follow the course taken by the rest of the world against the pandemic.

“We cannot segregate ourselves like an island, but also we cannot blindly accept what is being brought forward to us (on COVID-19) without carrying out our own investigations and inputs,” she told officials at State House in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam. “Let us have a stance.”

Though she did not announce any other changes related to COVID-19 policies, the remarks stood in firm contrast to the position of Magufuli, who was Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 sceptic. He urged Tanzanians to shun mask-wearing and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organization. Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data last May.

Hassan also announced that media that had been banned by Magufuli’s government should be allowed to operate. “We should not ban the media by force. Reopen them, and we should ensure they follow the rules. We should not give them room to say we are shrinking press freedom.”

Magufuli had suspended or shut down newspapers and websites, jailed journalists and warned them that there were limits to press freedoms.

In her six years as Magufuli’s deputy, Hassan at times publicly embraced his unorthodox and increasingly authoritarian style.

Hassan took office on March 19 following the death of Magufuli after a more than two-week absence from public life. She said he died of heart disease, amid rumours during his disappearance that he was ill with COVID-19.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsoom; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Steve Orlofsky)