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Ex-Chief of Tanzania’s Defence Forces Reveals Inside Story After President Magufuli’s Passing and Inauguration of President Samia

Three crucial moments emerged where the army appeared to assert control in defending the constitution: the announcement of President Magufuli's death, the inauguration of the new president, and the subsequent safeguarding of the authority and reputation of the newly appointed leader.

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Former Chief of Defence Forces Venance Mabeyo has revealed for the first-time detailed events of what transpired in the last hours of President Magufuli and events after his death.

Three crucial moments emerged where the army appeared to assert control in defending the constitution: the announcement of President Magufuli’s death, the inauguration of the new president, and the subsequent safeguarding of the authority and reputation of the newly appointed leader.

Mabeyo who served as the Chief of Defence Force between February 06, 2017 and officially retired on June 30, 2022, was speaking in an interview released on March 17, 2024, by government-owned Daily News Digital.

Mabeyo said that debates during the transition period arose possibly due to some individuals forgetting the constitutional provisions regarding presidential succession in the event of death or incapacitation.

“Per the constitution, which fortunately is quite explicit, in the event of the president’s death or inability to carry out his duties, the Vice President assumes the presidency,” Mabeyo explained. “So, it’s possible people had forgotten what the constitution says that’s why there were different debates.”

While it’s not the first time for Mabeyo to speak about the issue, on June 22, 2022, during an interview with ITV he said, “The army stood firm in defending the constitution.” In this recent interview, Mabeyo says he is grateful to God, that power transfer was smooth during that difficult moment.

“But we said that there are procedures, and when we follow them, there are no issues. We must follow them to ensure a smooth power transfer,” he said.

Magufuli Death

Mabeyo explains that when the doctors saw the condition of President Magufuli was becoming unstable, they called in all of the heads of the security organs meaning the Chief of Defense Force, Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro, and the Director General of the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services, Athumani Diwani Msuya.

“At around half past six in the evening or a quarter to seven he died. All the heads of security organs were present, myself, the IGP, and the Director of Intelligence,” Mabeyo says the first issue that arose was who was to be informed first.

“The issue was who to inform first, the Vice President was in Tanga, and the Prime Minister was not in Dar es Salaam he was in Dodoma or somewhere else, and the Chief Secretary wasn’t in Dar es Salaam, he was in Dodoma.”

Mabeyo explains that the decision was reached among the three heads of the security organs to call in Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa and the Chief Secretary, Bashiru Ally.

“The three of us who were in Dar es Salaam, we agreed that because the President (by then Vice President) was in Tanga, let’s call in the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary without disclosing the issues, and fortunately they arrived on time,” continued Mabeyo.

“As the Chairperson of the heads of security organs, I had to inform them that the President is no more,” he added.

It is worth noting that rumors of the President’s condition started to circulate on social media for several days before March 17. By March 09, 2021, Kenyan media had picked up the issue and suggested President Magufuli was being treated in Nairobi.

On March 12, 2021, Tanzania’s Prime Minister refuted rumors that were spiraling on social media by saying the President was well and continuing with work, however, this attracted more pressure from the opposition leaders and people on social media, some even asked why Vice President was not in Dar es Salaam for a possible power transfer.

On March 16, 2021, while on tour in Tanga, Vice President Samia asked people to ignore rumors about the President and shared greetings from the President. She repeated the same message in the afternoon of March 17, 2021, a few hours before the announcement of the President’s death.

News clippings (March 16), on the left, Samia: Ignore rumours and right Samia shared greetings from President Magufuli in Tanga

Mabeyo explained that during a meeting involving five men, they reviewed the constitution and observed that only the Vice-President had the authority to announce the death of the President. Consequently, they sent a message to both the Vice-President and Magufuli’s family at the same time. Vice President Samia announced the death of President Magufuli on March 17,2021.

Delayed Swear-in of the New President

Mabeyo explains that the swear-in of the new President was supposed to take place within 24 hours following the death of the President. However, this did not happen because there were some conflicting opinions, causing the new President to be sworn in on March 19, 2021.

“There were two arguments: should the President be sworn in before the funeral or after the funeral,” he explained. “But logically, if some presidents attend the funeral, who would welcome them: the President or the Vice President?”, he continued.

Mabeyo added that there was another debate regarding not holding a ceremony for the swearing-in of the new president. However, Mabeyo opposed the idea. He emphasized that there must be a guard of honor, and the flag of the commander-in-chief must be raised through a parade.

“I said that this is the Commander-in-Chief who is being sworn, if those procedures are not followed the army will not recognize her,” he explained.

Moreover, Mabeyo clarified why during the swear-in ceremony of President Samia he had emphasized that the title of the Commander in Chief in Swahili, Amiri Jeshi Mkuu, should remain and not be changed to Amirat Jeshi Mkuu (Amirat to reflect a female leader) as some people were suggesting.

“In the army, we don’t refer men and women, we have officers; so even Amiri Jeshi (Commander in Chief) title should remain the same, Amirat is more prominent in religion,” he clarified that this was also supported by the National Kiswahili Council.

Mabeyo’s analysis of President Samia’s leadership explains her as someone who often seeks and listens to advice and even when there are mistakes correction will be made quickly.

On January 22, 2024, President Samia uniquely thanked the army for their role in building people’s trust in the first female president. This was during the annual meeting of the army heads. The army gifted the President with a photo of her in combat uniform, the photo that was taken on November 15, 2021.

“One of the major obstacles to having a female president in Tanzania was how would she serve as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and there were even bigger murmurs about the Commander-in-Chief herself wearing scarfs, now how could that be possible?” said President Samia.

“But the day when you put me in combat uniform and people saw that photo, they realized that everything is possible, that day you built the trust of Tanzanians, I thank you.”

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