Persons of the Year—2022
Woman of the Year
PRESIDENT SAMIA SULUHU HASSAN
Samia Suluhu Hassan became president of Tanzania on 19 March 2021 following the death of President John Magufuli. As the first woman to become president of Tanzania, and only the second woman currently serving as president in Africa, President Suluhu intends to lead in a firm, but diplomatic way. In a speech she said,"I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say." This is in stark contrast to her predecessor, who was nicknamed “the bulldozer”. More importantly, she has been taking steps to backtrack on some of the late President Magufuli’s authoritarian policies; she is seen as restoring Tanzania’s democracy.
Suluhu was born in 1960 in the small fishing village of Makunduchi, Zanzibar at a time when it was still an independent Muslim sultanate. Her father was a school teacher and her mother was a housewife. She finished her secondary education in 1977 and began working in the Ministry of Planning and Development as a clerk. After completing a degree in public administration, she worked on a project funded by the World Food Programme. In 1994, she earned a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of Manchester in the UK.
In 2000, Suluhu began her political career by winning a seat in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. She was appointed Minister of Labour, Gender Development and Children and later served as Minister of Tourism, Trade and Investment. She was the only high-ranking woman in the cabinet at the time. In 2010, she ran for a seat in Tanzania’s National Assembly, winning by more than eighty per cent of the vote. She was appointed Minister of State for Union Affairs by then President Jakaya Kikwete. In 2014, Tanzania attempted to draft a new constitution, for which Suluhu was elected as the Vice Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly. During her time on the Constituent Assembly, many noted her calm demeanour and ability to manage outbreaks of pandemonium.
John Mugufuli chose Suluhu as his running mate in the 2015 election, and upon the subsequent win, Suluhu became Tanzania’s first female vice-president. During her term as vice-president, she earned the respect of many members of parliament who worked with her, noting her work ethic, temperament, and decision-making skills. In the 2020 election, Mugufuli and Suhulu won a second term in office.
Five months into their second term, President Mugufuli died, leaving Suluhu to inherit the presidential post according to the Tanzanian constitution. She has become the first female president of Tanzania, the second president from Zanzibar, and the third Muslim to hold the post.
While some may have initially expressed doubt regarding President Suhulu’s abilities, they were soon silenced. The first policy was in tackling the covid-19 pandemic. In contrast to Mugufuli’s policy of denial, President Suhulu began a vaccination campaign, stating that Tanzania could not isolate itself. And while Mugufuli was insular, President Suhulu is not. In her short time in office, she has made official visits to many of Tanzania’s neighbouring states, Mozambique, Uganda, and Kenya, in what some describe as a charm offensive in order to repair relations that suffered under her predecessor. Additionally, there are claims that Tanzania will ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, demonstrating further intentions to integrate into the region.
During President Suhulu’s first months in office in 2021, she has managed to attract 92 new investment projects, providing roughly $3.5 billion. In contrast, 2020 only saw around $300 million in investments during the same period. President Suhulu has restored investor confidence and attracted private sector investments. In April 2021, she finalised the agreement of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline with land-locked Uganda, which is expected to greatly improve both country’s economies. President Suhulu’s efforts are not limited to Africa though. She has been promoting Tanzanian tourism, appearing in the travel series, The Royal Tour, hosted by American journalist Peter Greenberg. Within her current tenure the East African Community will try to implement greater economic unity through issuing a common currency, and President Suhulu looks to be positioning Tanzania into a strong position.
Domestically, President Suhulu has restored some freedom of speech and has been more tolerant to her party’s opposition. However, she has yet to push for any changes in the law. Commenting about social media, Suhulu said that “it helps us know what people are thinking, if we ban it, we won't have that platform”. Her new appointees include former opposition members, broadcasters, and artists, but also staunch party members from Mugufuli’s administration. The delicate balance between party loyalists and new faces may show Suhulu’s desire to create a more inclusive government. Sceptics suggest that more needs to be done to right the past’s wrongs. Despite criticism of her policies, President Suhulu has asked Tanzanians to “let me straighten up the country first” before addressing calls for constitutional reform. Until then, she has stated that she will side with her party concerning domestic policies. No doubt she will be looking to secure her party’s support for the 2025 election.
Man of the Year
Uğur Şahin is an immunologist and the CEO of BioNTech, the company which developed one of the major vaccines against covid-19. By July 2021, Pfizer and BioNTech had distributed one billion doses globally and had orders to deliver several billion more doses, making it one of the most ambitious scale-ups in pharmaceutical history.
In 1969, when he was four years old, Şahin emigrated to Germany from İskenderun, Turkey, with his mother where they joined his father who was working at the Ford factory in Cologne. He studied medicine at the University of Cologne, graduating with his doctorate in 1992.
He met his wife, Dr Türeci, while studying medicine at Saarland University Hospital, and in 2001 the couple founded the company, Ganymed, which focused on developing therapeutic antibodies. It was during this time that they filed dozens of patents that later formed the company, BioNTech, which they founded in 2008 with their mentor, Christoph Huber. The breakthrough advances they made in mRNA research during this time would gain them the attention of both billionaire investors and the German government, who would put millions into BioNTech to push the research further.
Though the main focus of Dr Şahin's research work is the discovery of mRNA-based drugs for use as cancer immunotherapies, with the advent of the covid-19 pandemic, BioNTech pivoted to using mRNA-based drugs for fighting the new threat. By the end of 2020, BioNTech developed the BNT162b2 vaccine and reported a 95% efficacy against covid-19. It became the first mRNA drug approved for human use. Subsequently, Dr Şahin entered a partnership with Pfizer pharmaceutical company to distribute it worldwide. Due to this partnership, BioNTech skyrocketed in value, making Dr Şahin and his wife among Germany's top 100 wealthiest people.
However, despite his success, Dr Şahin stays humble, preferring to ride a bike to BioNTech headquarters. He still lives with his wife and their daughter in their small apartment in the town of Mainz, Germany."We do not have special needs," Dr Şahin says,"we don’t even have a car. A yacht would be impractical." Still in touch with their poorer immigrant roots, (his family toasts all their accomplishments with Turkish tea), Dr Şahin has often spoken of his wish that the vaccine be distributed widely and fairly. He often worries that rich countries will buy up the majority of doses, leaving the developing world in limbo. The wealthy should not be able to jump the line due to their wealth, he's often insisted. Despite this, the New York Times released a report in 2021 showing how wealthy areas are receiving vaccines meant for poorer communities in America. And the BBC released a report in 2020 stating that up to 70 lower-income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people, due to more wealthy countries snapping up the majority of vaccine supplies.
Additionally, because of their immigrant background, Dr Şahin and Dr Türeci have been used for political purposes despite their vocal objections; most recently by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, who has used Dr Şahin and Dr Türeci's example as successful integration into the country. However, Dr Şahin prefers to concentrate on the advancement of science and medical research."In science it does not matter where you are from, what counts is what you can do and what you are willing to do," he says.