Tanzania’s President dies of ‘heart condition’

DAR ES SALAAM: Tanzanian President John Magufuli died aged 61 from a heart condition, his vice president said, after more than five years of divisive rule capped by his refusal to take COVID-19 seriously.

Magufuli, popularly nicknamed the “Bulldozer”, had been missing from public view for almost three weeks, fuelling wild rumours of his ill health, with opposition leaders claiming he had contracted the virus.

Vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan announced his death, adding that he had died of a “heart condition”, which he has suffered from for a decade, at a hospital in Dar es Salaam.

Magufuli last appeared in public on February 27, and the fervent Catholic had missed three Sunday services, where he would often address the congregation, sparking concern.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu said that he had caught the virus, as demands grew for information on his whereabouts and rumours took off that Magufuli was seeking treatment outside the country.

Magufuli was first elected in 2015 as a corruption-busting man of the people, endearing him to a population weary of graft scandals.

His re-election last October was dismissed by the opposition and some diplomats as a sham, over alleged rigging, the blocking of foreign media and observer teams and an oppressive military presence.

Analysts said that Magufuli had dealt a crushing blow to democracy in one of Africa’s most stable nations. However, it is his handling of the coronavirus pandemic which cast his leadership style into sharp relief.

He championed prayer instead of face masks, before stopping the publication of statistics in April 2020 when the country had recorded a total of 509 cases and 16 deaths.

Tanzania became an outlier in a region which quickly implemented lockdowns, nightime curfews and travel restrictions to stem infections.

In May last year he revealed he had submitted a variety of fruit and animals to be tested for the virus and that a papaya, quail and goat tested positive, revealing “sabotage” at the national laboratory.

The devout Christian, who often took to the pulpit when he attended mass, later claimed prayer had saved the country from COVID-19. “That’s why we are all not wearing face masks here. You think we don’t fear dying? It’s because there is no Covid-19,” he said.

However by February, under mounting pressure after the vice president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died from the coronavirus, Magufuli appeared to concede the virus did in fact exist.

Under Tanzania’s constitution, Hassan will become the country’s first female president and will consult the ruling CCM party over the appointing of a new vice president.


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