Tanzania's Samia Suluhu picks new army chief, ending weeks of speculation

Tanzania President Samia Suluhu Hassan swears-in the Chief of Defense Forces, General Jacob Mkunda, at State House Dar es Salaam on June 30, 2022. 

Photo credit: PPU

Major General Jacob John Mkunda has been promoted to a General and named Tanzania’s Chief of Defence Forces, taking over General Venance Mabeyo, who has retired.

Mkunda, who was appointed by President Samia Suluhu on Wednesday and sworn in on Thursday at State House, becomes Tanzania’s ninth military head.

The former chief of operations and training had also previously served as the Commander of Land Forces.

His appointment, announced June 29 by State House spokesperson Zuhura Yunus, ended weeks of speculation over the President’s choice of the vital position even as she eyes the 2025 election, in which she hopes to seek endorsement as Tanzania’s first elected female head of state.

General Mabeyo retires on July 1, on his 66th birthday, having served as the army chief for over five years. He was appointed by late President John Magufuli on February 1, 2017.

Another appointment

President Suluhu also named Brigadier General Salum Haji Othman, the head of research and military development, as Chief of Staff and second-in-command in the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces with the new rank of lieutenant general.

General Othman, who, like President Suluhu, hails from the Zanzibar archipelago, replaced Lt-Gen Mathew Mkingule, who has now become an ambassador under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Transfer of presidential power

As CDF, General Mabeyo will be remembered chiefly for defending constitutional stipulations regarding the transfer of presidential powers in the event of an incumbent’s death amid reports of some unrest within the ruling CCM party following Magufuli’s sudden demise in March 2021.

The inner circle of the late Tanzanian leader had maintained a strict news blackout on his state of health in the weeks leading up to the official March 17 death announcement, followed by a two-day leadership vacuum before his deputy Samia was sworn in on March 19.

At the time, there were widespread grapevine reports of unnamed Magufuli loyalists within CCM deploying intentional delaying tactics to prevent Samia’s automatic elevation from the position of vice-president as per the Constitution.

This, in turn, fuelled fears of an unprecedented military intervention occurring in Tanzania. However, according to various military and CCM sources who later opened up off-record to The EastAfrican, General Mabeyo was among the most resilient voices insisting on respect for the Constitution, becoming one of President Samia’s most trusted allies from the get-go. 

The President has since made moves to consolidate her overall authority on Tanzania’s political landscape, including making a raft of appointments designed to raise the number of women and Zanzibar natives in positions of authority as she eyes the 2025 election.

Apart from General Mabeyo, other former Tanzanian CDFs were generals Davis Mwamunyange (2007-2017), George Waitara (2001-2007), Robert Mboma (1994-2001), Ernest Mwita Kiaro (1988-1994), David Musuguri (1980-1988), Abdallah Twalipo (1974-1980) and Mirisho Sarakikya (1964-1974).