Tanzanian President John Magufuli died on Wednesday in a hospital in Dar es Salaam, according to the country’s vice president in a televised speech. He was 61 years old at the time.
“President John Magufuli died of a heart disease he had been fighting for over ten years,” said Samia Suluhu Hassan. She went on to say that the president had been undergoing care at Mzena hospital since Sunday, and that the country will be in mourning for 14 days.
Hassan is now Tanzania’s acting president. She will be Tanzania’s first female president, but no date for her inauguration has been set.
Following days of speculation that Magufuli was suffering from Covid-19, the country’s Prime Minister dismissed the allegations last week. Magufuli had not been seen in public since February 27, prompting rumours that he was ill and being treated abroad.
According to state broadcaster Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, Kassim Majaliwa said he was shocked people were asking about the president’s whereabouts, adding that the president was “ok and continuing with his regular activities.” He spoke during a Friday prayer session at a mosque in the country’s Njombe area.
One of Africa’s most influential Covid skeptics was Magufuli. Magufuli dismissed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in Tanzania early on, urging his people to “pray coronavirus away,” claiming that the “satanic virus can’t exist in the body of Jesus Christ,” and blaming the rising number of positive cases on defective test kits.
In June, he declared that his country had “by the grace of God” eradicated coronavirus, challenged the safety of international Covid-19 vaccines, and stated that he had no plans to procure any vaccines for his country, instead advocating for the use of herbal medicine and steam treatments.
Tanzania has not published Covid-19 statistics since April 2020, leading the World Health Organization to urge Tanzania to publish coronavirus data and increase public health initiatives. The US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned last month that Covid-19 cases had been on the rise since January.
Magufuli, dubbed “The Bulldozer” for his stern stance against corruption and hardline policies, was elected Tanzania’s fifth president in October 2015.
However, Magufuli’s anti-corruption zeal was short-lived, as he started a crackdown on democracy and independent voices.
Magufuli oversaw the closure or suspension of numerous media outlets, while his government weakened judicial and parliamentary independence, imposed a partial ban on public rallies, harassed MPs, shut down online political space, and prosecuted critics under defamation and sedition laws.
As soon as news of Magufuli’s death became public, opposition leader Zitto Kabwe expressed his condolences to his family. In a quote, the leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party said, “This is an extraordinary moment for our United Republic of Tanzania, and one that will certainly drive us all in very personal ways.” “My sincere condolences go out to Mama Janeth and the whole family of our late President.”
He also wished Hassan “blessings, bravery, and patience.” “Let us continue to pray for patience and understanding, my Tanzanian brothers and sisters. This is an opportunity for us as a country to demonstrate our maturity and honesty “Kabwe was also added.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, was one of the first world leaders to express sorrow over Magufuli’s death. In a tweet, he said, “My thoughts are with his loved ones and the people of Tanzania.”
In a televised address Thursday morning, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta paid tribute to Magufuli and announced a seven-day period of national mourning in the country.
“Africa and the world has lost an illustrious leader whose vision, passion and immense leadership propelled the nation of Tanzania forward… in the passing on of President Magufuli, I have lost a friend, a colleague and a visionary ally whom I worked closely, particularly on our commitment to forge lasting bonds between Kenya and Tanzania,” he said.