Tanzania braces for the impact of its past, and the arrival of its future

The funeral of Tanzania’s Magufuli brings mourning, questions for the future of a nation 

Rachel Brooks

March 21, 2021 

News and Analysis

Image: “Tanzania” by cesargp is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Associated Press reported the funeral of Tanzania’s President Magufuli as met with both sorrow and ire across the demographics of Tanzania. Magufuli was a strong skeptic of the risk of COVID-19. The Associated Press reported that he died of heart failure. Despite various rumors, it was not specified if the heart disease was COVID-19 related or not. 

Magufuli will be succeeded by Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Hassan will be the first woman head of state in Tanzania. She will serve the remainder of his five-year reelected term. 

Mourners of Magufuli included Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

The President of Zimbabwe voices condolences for the passing of Magufuli. 


Along with the leaders of Africa, foreign leaders expressed condolences. The United States expressed its wish that Tanzania could “keep to the democratic path” and spoke on the advocacy of Tanzanians in working together for human rights, civil liberties and to continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.


Tanzania braces for a visit from both the past, and the arrival of its future

As Hassan takes the reigns, Tanzania braces for the impact of its past with the arrival of its future. The Conversation Africa discussed on March 21 the imperialist past that has engaged Tanzania’s Nile regional counterparts to the north in dam-related politics. The major players of Nile dam-related politics are Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Tanzania, which is located in the Nile Basin and boasts the great Lake Victoria, will also be forced to engage in whatever domino effect the politics to its north have upon Nilotic Africa.

Ethiopia views building the Grand Renaissance Ethiopia Dam or GERD as its solution to a mass deficit for electricity. The dam could provide an estimated 65 million Ethiopians with electricity. Ethiopia likewise seeks to secure the power of the GERD to offer cheap energy production to its regional neighbors.

Sudan has been willing to play along with Ethiopia in recent history, with the offer for cheaper energy and electricity weighed along with water concerns. Yet, as the Tigray conflict continues to spill over into Sudanese territory, lines of cooperation begin to blur over multifaceted regional complications. The Citizen reported this bleed-over conflict clash as “fueling wider tensions.” These wider tensions include the displacement crisis of Ethiopians, a widespread problem that even made headlines when Ethiopian migrants found their way to Sana’a, Yemen, and fell victim to the Houthi rebellion. 

These domino politics, whether actively or passively, impact Tanzania as a nation on the Nile, and as a nation of internal crisis. While the western world celebrates Hassan’s presidency, international analysts state her authority in the region may stand in doubt.

Hassan takes the reigns, with many internal crises to solve 

The transfer of power, this time through abrupt death, can be a vulnerable time for any nation. Yet, Tanzania also stands in the scrutiny of the western eye for its handling of human rights, COVID-19 pandemic, and its “protectionism” of natural resources, see CNBC earlier this month. CNBC quoted from a report by Verisk Maplecroft that cited an increase in “resource-based nationalism” in nations replete with natural resources. Tanzania was on the list of “top 10” for resource nationalism, a subject that has drawn criticism from the western world.

The Citizen reported that “resource nationalism” would make sense only in the cases where those resources were used to better the lives of the nation’s citizens. This report questioned the Tanzanian government’s communication strategy for the resource-nationalism-driven processes, as of March 16. 

Nile politics trigger international response 

The history of the Nilotic dam projects politics, as described in discussions of The Conversation Africa, alert the modern spectator. With the Aswan Nile Dam and the Roseiries Dam,  Sudan and Egypt were forced to reach a compromise and sign the 1959 Nile Waters Treaty to receive funding for projects contemporary to the era from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. This served as a lesson to all players regional and international alike. The entire world holds a vested interest, active or passive, in the Nile River.

With wider tensions afoot between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt in the modern hour, the same type of diplomatic process that led to the Nile Waters Treaty of 1959 might be met with great challenges.