John Magufuli: Tanzania’s COVID-19 Sceptic President dies at 61

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Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died at a hospital in Dar es Salaam on Wednesday. He was 61 years old.

According to the televised message from the country’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, “President John Magufuli died of a heart ailment that he has battled for over 10 years.”

The Vice President announced 14 days of national mourning.

Samia Suluhu Hassan is now constitutionally the acting President of Tanzania until the next election. She will be Tanzania’s first female President. The government has not announced the official date for her swearing-in.

Before his death, President Magufuli usually appeared publicly at Sunday church services every week. However, since February 27, he had not been seen in public, fuelling rumours that he had contracted COVID-19 and was flown abroad for treatment. There were speculations that he received treatments in a hospital in Kenya and was later transferred to India when his condition deteriorated. Those rumours were vehemently denied by the government, although they had provided no contrary proof.

“This is an unprecedented moment for our United Republic of Tanzania, and one that will undoubtedly move us all in very personal ways,” opposition leader of the ACT-Wazalendo partyZitto Kabwe, who offered his condolences to Magufuli’s family, said in a statement.

“My thoughts are with his loved ones and the people of Tanzania,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Twittered.

John Magufuli, one of the strongest COVID-19 Sceptics in Africa, had dismissed the deadly virus as a hoax and “satanic,” and urged Tanzanians to instead “pray coronavirus away.” In June, he claimed victory for the alleged eradication of coronavirus, which he credited to “the grace of God.” He equally questioned the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, which he refused to order and instead encouraged Tanzanians to use herbal medicines and steam treatments against corona. John Magufuli also declined to report Covid-19 figures since April 2020, a move which has angered the World Health Organization and other health experts.

John Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer” due to his tough stance against corruption and hard-line policies, is not new to controversies. Since he won the country’s Presidential elections in 2015 in a landslide victory, he had taken, sometimes unorthodox approach to tackling Tanzania’s problems. Many saw him as an inpatient President who wanted things done. The impatience was evident in his clampdown on corruption, which earned him praises from many Tanzanians. However, those praises quickly turned into criticism when they accused the President of autocratic and anti-democratic tendencies. A partial ban on public rallies, detention and prosecution of opponents and media houses under the infamous defamation and sedition laws were accusations levelled against the former President. It did not help that the judiciary and parliament could not operate independently under President Magufuli.

It is left for Tanzanians to judge the legacies of their 5th President John Magufuli. May his soul rest in peace.