Analysis

New era or old problems – post-Magufuli Tanzania to take shape in coming weeks

  • EMEA
  • Political and Economic Risk Consulting
Patricia Rodrigues

Patricia Rodrigues

New era or old problems – post-Magufuli Tanzania to take shape in coming weeks



Parliament on 30 March approved the appointment of finance minister Philip Mpango as vice president. This comes days after Samia Suluhu was sworn in as president to serve until 2025, following the death of former president John Magufuli (2015-21).

  • Suluhu will likely continue with the prudent approach to government spending taken by Magufuli’s administration.
  • Suhulu’s relative weakness within the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) will result in regular disputes between different factions in the party in the coming months, driving uncertainty in policy- and decision-making.
  • Nonetheless, the incoming president will likely be keen to promote a more welcoming approach to international investment compared to Magufuli’s hardline nationalism, to improve the economy and secure Magufuli’s economic legacy.

Shocked, but not surprised

Magufuli had been absent from public engagements for several weeks, and despite government denials it was widely assumed that the president was critically ill. Suluhu’s announcement therefore did not come as a surprise, with speculation already rife for several days that the president had died. The constitution is clear on the procedures to be followed for the succession in the event of the death or incapacitation of a sitting president, and there were no major obstacles or objections to Suluhu assuming executive authority. The swearing-in of the new president took place without incident. 

Nonetheless, Magufuli’s death – like his election in 2015 – will be a shock to the Tanzanian system, with the impact of his presidency likely to be felt for years to come. The government’s delay in confirming his death was likely intended to give officials more time to agree on the transition behind the scenes, with Magufuli’s allies keen to protect their power and influence in the incoming administration. Suluhu will need to carefully manage the wide range of different interests at play in her selection of vice-president and potential changes to the cabinet, given her relative lack of support networks within the CCM. 

Competing factions

In-country sources note that the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services (TISS) has been particularly keen to ensure it retains some political influence in the new administration. The TISS reportedly controlled and directed all information related to the president’s health, allegedly excluding senior cabinet, other government and CCM officials from the process. The organisation has enjoyed increased relevance, funding and authority under Magufuli, with the former president distrusting large swathes of the government, including the police in view of its poor reputation for corruption. 

In addition, the CCM will seek to ensure party interests are protected. The party itself is deeply divided, with different factions pushing disparate interests. Magufuli was not popular in the CCM, having reduced its input into policy with his centralised and authoritarian style of governance. Instead, Magufuli had relied on the support of a few close allies, largely drawn from academia and outside the government. These figures will support the TISS in pushing for the maintenance of the status quo. However, their positions in the incoming administration will be uncertain. 

Magufuli’s insistence on the separation of political and business ties had irked senior CCM members, who had long benefited from using their ties to the party and government to further their commercial interests. These businesspeople will be looking to re-establish the “old way” of doing things. 

Meanwhile, younger party cadres, such as former minister of state for union affairs and environment January Makamba, did not support Magufuli’s insular focus and relative withdrawal of Tanzania from international engagements. These CCM members will be looking to see the government re-engage with international investors, rather than resort to the nationalist rhetoric espoused by Magufuli. 

Business impact

Consequently, the selections Suluhu makes in the coming weeks will shape the country’s trajectory. However, regardless of which faction emerges with greatest influence, Suluhu will need to ensure that the others are also appeased. This is likely to result in frequent policy- and decision-making deadlock in the months ahead, with inconsistencies in the regulatory and wider business environment highly likely. 

An early upcoming test for the new administration will be the 2021-22 budget, due to be released in June. The new president is likely to look to preserve the more positive aspects of Magufuli’s legacy. This will likely include a focus on completing projects that have already commenced, such as the standard gauge railway connecting the Port of Dar es Salaam to Mwanza, with planned connections to Rwanda and Burundi. However, it is less clear whether there will be appetite to continue with large flagship projects funded by the Magufuli administration, such as the planned Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project and new airport in the capital Dodoma. 

Suluhu is also likely to look to improve relationships with major Western and other donor countries as she seeks to steer the economy out of its COVID-19-induced malaise. As a result, the government is likely to somewhat soften its harsh stance on issues such as local content and aggressive tax collection in the coming months. The death of Magufuli and illness of other senior government officials – although not publicly attributed to COVID-19 – will likely see the incoming administration take the pandemic more seriously. This is unlikely to result in lockdowns or restrictions in movement, but issues such as mandatory mask wearing and social distancing are likely to be encouraged, even if informally.

Decision making may increase in pace as the administration finds it feet in 2022. However, confusion is likely to reign in the coming months as the government, citizens and the international investor community try to understand what the death of the individual who held such a tight grip on all critical decision making means for the investment climate and stability more broadly.

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