Death of President Magufuli likely to result in fraught transition process, renewal of power struggle within ruling CCM party - Tanzania Analysis

Death of President Magufuli likely to result in fraught transition process, renewal of power struggle within ruling CCM party – Tanzania Analysis

Executive Summary

  • The death of President John Magufuli comes just four months after he was sworn into office for a second term. Given the two-week uncertainty regarding his whereabouts, the fact that Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan made the announcement is significant and may be a sign of adherence to constitutional protocol regarding presidential succession.
  • However, the transition process may be fraught, as factionalism within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) is likely to remerge over the coming weeks as other party figures may seek greater influence.
  • Given this factionalism, elites within the CCM may attempt to attract loyalty from institution heads of the judiciary, intelligence, and security services by proffering them positions within government if their factions manage to capture power within the state.
  • Opposition response to President Magufuli’s passing is likely to be relatively inconsequential. The two major opposition parties may pursue divergent courses of action but have nonetheless been marginalized over the years and thus will have limited effect.
  • Any calls for the public mobilization of supporters are likely to fail, given their inability to organize and fears of suppression by security forces. The situation on the ground in Tanzania will also likely remain calm over the coming days.
  • Those operating or residing in Tanzania are advised to maintain vigilance and avoid the vicinity of gatherings as a general precaution due to political uncertainty.


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Please be advised

  • In a televised address, Tanzania’s Vice President (VP) Samia Suluhu Hassan announced that President John Magufuli died in a hospital in Dar es Salaam on March 17. Hassan stated that Magufuli died of heart complications after being hospitalized at Dar es Salaam’s Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute on March 6.
  • President Magufuli was reportedly last seen in public on February 27. Multiple opposition leaders had alleged that Magufuli was ill, potentially with COVID-19 and that he had sought treatment abroad. This remains unconfirmed.
  • Vice President Hassan announced that there would be a 14-day period of national mourning. As per constitutional protocols, VP Hassan is to be sworn in as President for the unexpired period of the five-year mandate won by Magufuli.
  • However, this process has not been confirmed by the government at the time of writing. Additionally, following consultation with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), a new VP will be appointed.
  • Following the announcement of President Magufuli’s passing, the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party issued a statement noting the loss for the Tanzanian people. The party also welcomed incoming President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
  • Furthermore, the main opposition Chadema party stated that it would hold a press conference at 17:00 (local time) on March 18, and would issue a statement on the matter following party discussions.
  • Sources on March 18 noted that the situation in Dar es Salaam remained calm, with traffic moving normally, albeit with a light security presence.

Assessments & Forecast

The transition process may be fraught, with tensions likely over new President Hassan’s status in CCM

  1. The death of President Magufuli is highly significant and comes after he was not seen in public for more than two weeks. Furthermore, it is notable that Magufuli passed away only four months into his second term in office. Magufuli won controversial elections held on October 28, polls that he was always likely to prevail in given his dominance within the CCM, effective sidelining of the political opposition, and shrinking of political space nationally. More recently, Magufuli had been a vocal skeptic of COVID-19, urging Tanzanians to shun wearing masks while also denouncing vaccines as a Western conspiracy. VP Samia Suluhu Hassan had publicly supported Magufuli, often representing Tanzania abroad, but has been noted as being more amenable to dialogue. The fact that VP Hassan made the announcement of Magufuli’s passing is notable, given the general government’s aversion to scrutiny and doubts over whether constitutional protocol would be followed in the immediate term.
  2. As per Article 37 of the Constitution, succession protocols are that the VP is sworn in for the remaining period of the five-year term. Following this, as per Article 40 guidelines, after consultations with the party of the President, the head of state shall propose the new VP. However, the new VP can only be sworn in after being confirmed by the National Assembly by obtaining a vote of no less than 50 percent of all MPs in Parliament. In this context, while the succession plan appears to be straightforward, it is likely there still remain concerns over the transition process, especially considering VP Hassan’s uncertain status within the CCM hierarchy.
  3. While Hassan has been VP since 2015, the fact that she hails from Zanzibar is likely to cause friction within the CCM, given that Tanzania has never had a President from Zanzibar, and more broadly given the historically tense relations between the mainland and Zanzibar. Furthermore, given that President Magufuli had often pursued Christian-centric policies while in government, Hassan being Muslim may be an unpopular choice for Christian hardliners within the party. That said, there are reports that Hassan may be backed by CCM factions that continue to support former president Jakaya Kikwete, especially those factions with a strong Muslim presence.
  4. FORECAST: In light of this uncertainty, it remains plausible that the transition process will be tense. Magufuli occupied a strong and especially centralized role and his absence could leave a significant gap. Even if Hassan is able to take power in accordance with the constitutional procedure, tensions are especially likely in the nominations for the new VPs, where MPs will attempt to lobby to allow favorable candidates to take the position. Within the CCM, it remains probable that factionalism, which was the inherent state of the CCM before Magufuli assumed power, will return.


Magufuli’s ascension to power enabled by CCM factionalism but later subverted by his centralization of power

  1. Factionalism was especially prevalent in the CCM during the reign of President Kikwete from 2005-2015, wherein he struggled to exercise control over the CCM’s ruling coalition. Instead, Kikwete depended on a powerful mtandao, or network, to maintain power. However, this network fractured into a competing group, which he struggled to reconcile. Given these tensions, Kikwete adopted the most inclusive candidate selection procedure CCM has ever had, allowing all party members to participate, highlighting how the president was caught between various factions.
  2. However, Magufuli’s ascension to power changed this dynamic, given that he was considered an outsider with no mtandao to speak of. His rise to power itself was a result of a complex sequence of intra-party tensions, where two major factions broke CCM rules and effectively knocked each other out of running for the presidency. Following this, Magufuli reversed the CCM dynamic, centralizing power over committees and agencies under his control both as President and, from mid-2016, as CCM Chairman. Magufuli accomplished this by limiting independent sources of political finance, along with wide-ranging party reforms allowing him to undermine rival factions within CCM and thereby reinforce his own power.
  3. FORECAST: In the absence of a figure like Magufuli, there remains a high likelihood that factions within the CCM will re-emerge, with various leaders attempting to shore up support to challenge Hassan during the transition process. Given the paucity of information on CCM dynamics at the time of writing, it remains unclear which particular leaders may emerge as potential candidates vying for either the VP position or just greater power within the CCM. Just as Magufuli came to power as a relative outsider, there remains a possibility that another leader who may be unheralded may garner enough support to attempt to capitalize on the political instability. Furthermore, it remains plausible that supporters of Magufuli within the CCM will lobby for policies followed under the former president to remain unchanged.


A resurgence of divisions within CCM heightens the potential for jockeying for influence within state institutions, as the possibility of civil unrest remains muted 

  1. FORECAST: Given the likely resurgence of factionalism within the CCM, leaders who were sidelined or given less authority under Magufuli may seek to court influence with various state institutions such as the judiciary, intelligence, and security services. This strategy will allow competing factions to better position themselves in terms of their ability to influence both political and ground situations. While Magufuli had centralized all these institutions unto himself, faction leaders may aim to attract loyalty from institution heads by offering them positions within government if their factions managed to capture power.
  2. However, this strategy is fraught, given the possibility that various important institutions allied to various competing factions may undermine the overall stability of the state, especially in the case of the military and the police. Given that Magufuli used the security services, and intelligence agencies to undermine party rivals and the opposition, thereby offering them a foothold in politics, there also remains a latent probability that powerful security elites may aim to use to leverage to their advantage, further entrenching securitization of the political environment and instituting a democratic backslide. That said, a military takeover of the government remains highly unlikely, given the military has traditionally adhered to civilian control of state institutions.
  3. FORECAST: Given these conditions, the opposition response to Magufuli’s passing is likely to be relatively inconsequential. Both of the main opposition parties, namely the ACT-Wazalendo and the Chadema party, may take divergent stances. For instance, ACT-Wazalendo has called for the immediate installation of Hassan and cautioned against allowing a power vacuum to form. The Chadema party, at the time of writing, is yet to publicize its position on the transition process. However, it remains likely that Chadema will adopt a more aggressive stance as compared to ACT-Wazalendo. Chadema leader Tundu Lissu, who now resides in exile in Belgium, remains a strident critic of the Magufuli administration, who he claims was responsible for his assassination attempt in 2017. Given these conditions, the chances of opposition-led protests are dim, especially since the opposition parties remain weak and incapable of mobilizing supporters either through lack of ground coordination or the fear of suppression by security forces if demonstrations do arise.
  4. FORECASTThe situation on the ground in Tanzania, and especially in Dar es Salaam and other major urban hubs such as Arusha, is likely to remain relatively calm. While small-scale gatherings of civil society activists who may call for greater democratic freedoms after Magufuli’s passing cannot be ruled out, precedent dictates that such gatherings are unlikely to cause any significant disruptions. Security forces, who were already loosely deployed to Dar es Salaam before the official announcement of Magufuli’s death, will likely not allow any public demonstrations or disruptions to official national mourning.


  1. Those operating or residing in Tanzania are advised to maintain vigilance and avoid the vicinity of gatherings as a general precaution due to political uncertainty.
  2. Travel to Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, and Arusha can continue while adhering to general security precautions regarding the risk of crime.
  3. Avoid openly espousing political views or demonstrating affiliation to local parties, either in person or online, due to political tensions and a restrictive political climate.