South Asia and Beyond

Missing In Action For Days, Tanzania’s President Dies

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli who had not been seen or heard in public for a fortnight, triggering rumours he was down with the Coronavirus, is dead. He was 61.

Announcing the news on national television, Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan said her boss died in a hospital in Dar es Salaam. She attributed his death to heart complications he had been facing for “the past 10 years”.

But the country’s main Opposition leader Tundu Lissu has all along claimed that Magufuli—who first denied the existence of the Coronavirus and then claimed his country had defeated it through prayer and steam inhalations—had contracted the virus and was being treated outside the country.

The son of a farmer, Magufuli made no bones of his modest background or the fact that he herded cattle. A good student, he went on to become a Chemistry teacher before embarking on his legislative career in 1995. Five years later, he would become a minister. He was nicknamed “the bulldozer” for spearheading a campaign to build roads during his tenure as the public health minister.

When he was first sworn in as President in 2015, he drew public awe for his no-nonsense approach: cracking down on absentee civil servants, stopping needless government spending and being tough on corruption. But there were authoritarian streaks to his persona too, such as curbing individual and press freedoms and going hard against opponents.

Magufuli denial of the pandemic, mocking Covid tests and denouncing vaccines are in stark contrast to his scientific background.

He’s Tanzania’s first head of state to die while in office. His successor—Vice-President Samia Suluhu who will complete the rest of his term—will be the country’s first woman President.