On Monday 22 March, thousands of people, including various African presidents, attended the funeral of late Tanzanian President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli. Newly appointed Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan led thousands of people in paying their respect to Mr Magufuli in the capital city of Dodoma. On 17 March, Ms Hassan announced the death of the fifth president of Tanzania, who died unexpectedly of heart complications at the age of 61, after not being seen in public for over two weeks. There was speculation that the real cause of death was COVID-19 related, but this has been officially denied. Ms Hassan was sworn-in to complete Mr Magufuli’s five-year term as president until 2025, making her the country’s first female head of state. The speedy swearing-in of Ms Hassan alleviated concerns over a constitutional vacuum following Mr Magufuli’s sudden passing. She paid an emotional tribute to her predecessor in her maiden speech, encouraging a unified effort to peacefully advance the building of “the new Tanzania that President Magufuli aspired to”.  Although sometimes controversial, Mr Magufuli enjoyed popular support among Tanzanians and African leaders, and Ms Hassan expressed her intention of building on what he started. Mr Magufuli was praised for his prioritisation of investment in infrastructure projects and his strong stance against corruption. His emphasis on protecting the economy, even throughout the coronavirus pandemic when many governments enforced crippling lockdowns, has reportedly left Tanzania’s economy in good shape at the time of his passing. Ms Hassan faces the challenge of establishing her specific leadership style while endeavouring to gain her nation’s confidence as their first female president.

From a Christian perspective, Mr Magufuli was an unashamedly Christian leader, who never shied away from emphasising his dependence on prayer and reliance on God. Though he faced some international criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic – largely opposing international (especially Western) containment measures – he encouraged his nation, where approximately 51% profess to be Christians, to “put God first”. While the Tanzanian Church has suffered the loss of a well-loved Christian ‘father figure’ – who, in the eyes of some Tanzanians, was their “defender”, who they feel has gone too soon and was still needed – the Church can take courage in knowing that its strength and security does not depend on any human leader. May the Church truly “put God first” as it looks to the ultimate leader and shepherd, Jesus Christ, who is eternal and all-sufficient. May the Church also unite in supporting their new president. Although she is not a Christian, like Mr Magufuli, she has been noted to have a leadership style that positively contrasts some of Mr Magufuli’s perceived weaknesses. For example, where Mr Magufuli was known to sometimes muscle through policies and be intolerant of dissent – which led to crackdowns on media, civil society, and the opposition – Ms Hassan is said to be better at listening to counsel and not making unilateral decisions. Whether her leadership will benefit Tanzania, from a Christian perspective, is hard to forecast at present, but as Christians, we know that God appoints leaders for specific ‘seasons’. The Church should intercede that God’s plans and purposes be done in Tanzania, through the leadership of Ms Hassan, who needs godly wisdom to tackle key areas such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and corruption.

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For a smooth and peaceful leadership transition that will be accepted and supported by Tanzanians, and for a stable political environment especially within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party
  • For the anticipated changes – under the new leadership – to be led by the Lord, that His will for Tanzania will be fulfilled
  • For the spirit of prayer and reliance on God, that Mr Magufuli publicly emphasised, not be extinguished, or mocked after his death


Image: REUTERS/Stringer