TANZANIA’S new President Samia Suluhu Hassan reached out to the opposition Thursday as she vowed to defend democracy and basic freedoms in the East African country, which had seen a slide into autocratic rule under her predecessor.
Democratic rights as well as individual and press freedom ‘are important for stimulating development and peace,’ she said in a maiden televised policy speech before parliament.
Hassan, who became Tanzania’s first female president in March, said she would discuss with the opposition ‘how best they will conduct their political activities for the benefit of our country.’
The 61-year-old was vice president to John Magufuli at the time of his sudden death last month, also aged 61.
He was a Covid-sceptic who said the virus had been fended off in Tanzania through prayer.
Authorities said Magufuli, nicknamed the ‘Bulldozer’ for his uncompromising leadership style, died of a heart condition after a mysterious three-week absence, but his political opponents insisted he had coronavirus.
In power since 2015, he had been re-elected in October in an election dismissed by the opposition as a farce.
Tanzania was long seen as a haven of stability and democracy in an otherwise volatile neighbourhood, but alarm grew over Magufuli’s increasingly autocratic rule.
Most foreign media were not allowed into Tanzania to cover the 2020 presidential election in which Magufuli won a second term in a disputed vote.
Early this month, Hassan sought to distance herself from her former boss, notably saying her country’s Covid response would be science-based.