Tanzanian president John Magufuli dies at 61

Dar es Salam, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Tanzania’s president John Magufuli, a Covid-19 skeptic, has died at the age of 61, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced Wednesday.

In a televised speech to the nation, Hassan said he had died from heart disease.

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that today… we lost our brave leader, the president of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli,” she said, adding there would be a nationwide two-week mourning period.

Magufuli, whose absence from public life since Feb. 27 had sparked widespread health rumors, died Wednesday at around 6 pm local time (15:00 GMT) in Dar es Salaam, the economic capital of Tanzania, she said.

During his absence, rumors abounded about the health of the head of state, who opposition members claimed may have sought medical assistance abroad after becoming very ill with Covid-19, although that has not been officially confirmed.

On Monday, the vice president hinted Magufuli could be ill, saying it wasn’t unusual for someone to develop a flu or fever, but it was a time for Tanzanians to unite through prayer.

Hassan also said there were many rumors circulating from outside the country that should not concern those inside.

It was the second time in less than a week that the government tried to dispel rumors about the president’s absence.

Last Friday, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa also accused the diaspora of speculating on Magufuli’s whereabouts.

“Tanzanians should be at peace. Your president is around, healthy, working hard,” said the prime minister.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who lost the October presidential election to Magufuli and went into exile in Belgium, claimed last week on his Twitter account that the president was flown to India in critical condition after having been evacuated first to the neighboring Kenya to receive treatment for Covid-19.

“My own sources in TISS (Tanzania Intelligence and Security Service) say he’s on life support with Covid and is paralyzed on one side and from the waist down after a stroke. Tell people the truth!” Lissu added on Monday.

The reality of the pandemic in Tanzania is unknown due to the lack of transparency, and the denial that the authorities have maintained with Magufuli at the helm.

In March 2020, shortly after the first case of Covid-19 was detected in the country, the president asserted that “coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly.”

His policy was then based on asking his compatriots to “pray” to combat the disease, using steam therapy, and criticizing the measures of the West. His government has refused to buy vaccines.

He also spoke out against social distancing, wearing of masks and questioned testing kits after declaring a papaya, a quail and a goat had returned positive results.

Since the end of April 2020, Tanzania has not published official figures of the disease, which left infections stagnant at 509 and 21 deaths.

In June, the head of state declared the pandemic in the country over thanks to divine intervention.

Married and father of three children, John Magufuli ruled this East African country since 2015. EFE-EPA


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