After Downplaying COVID, Tanzania's President Dies Of Rumored Virus Complications
Photo Credit: Photo by DANIEL HAYDUK/AFP via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Photo by DANIEL HAYDUK/AFP via Getty Images

After Downplaying COVID, Tanzania's President Dies Of Rumored Virus Complications

Tanzania , news
DeAnna Taylor
DeAnna Taylor Mar 18, 2021

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died at the age of 61. News of the East African leader’s death came as Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan made the announcement in a nationally televised address on Wednesday night.

“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. “President John Magufuli died of a heart ailment that he has battled for over 10 years.”

The news of the president’s death was met with mixed emotions. Many mourning Magufili’s passing, while some suspect he died of COVID-19 complications calling his death “poetic justice.”

Magufili’s consistent denial of the severity of the virus, especially in his country, instantly led opposition leaders to suspect he was ill and being treated abroad.  

“President Magufuli defied the world on the struggle against COVID-19,” opposition leader Tundu Lissu said on the Kenya Television Network. “He defied the East African community, he defied all our neighbors. He defied science. He refused to take the basic precautions that people all over the world are being told to take in the fight against COVID-19.”

Magufili had not been seen publicly since Feb. 27. Lissu says sources close to him stated the leader had been in Kenya receiving treatment for the virus.

Magufuli’s handling of COVID-19

Since April 2020, Tanzania has failed to report its COVID-19 numbers, leading the World Health Organization to step in because cases are suspected to be surging throughout the country.

From the beginning of the global pandemic, Magufuli downplayed its severity, going as far as telling citizens to “pray the virus away” because it could not live in the body of Jesus Christ.

In June, the leader announced that Tanzania had rid itself of COVID, “by the grace of God” after three days of national prayer.

Once talks of vaccinations came into play, the leader asked the Health Ministry not to send doses to Tanzania because “vaccines don’t work.”

“If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been brought,” the president stated, unmasked, said to a crowd in January. “Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a thing of the past. Vaccines for malaria would have been found. Vaccines for cancer would have been found.”

Once the leader failed to appear for a virtual summit in late Feb., rumors began swirling that he was ill.

Opposition leaders demanded that officials disclose the presidents whereabouts, but Magufuli’s staff denied claims stating he was simply working as usual.

Tanzania’s first female president

Now that the leader has died, Tanzania will soon swear-in its first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan. A date for the ceremony has not been set, but she will serve as acting president in the interim.

“This is an unprecedented moment,” the opposition party leader, Zitto Kabwe, said in a statement, “one that will undoubtedly move us all in very personal ways. My fellow Tanzanians, let us continue to pray for patience and understanding. This is a moment to show our maturity and integrity as a nation.”

Magufuli leaves behind a wife and two children.

Related: 7 Things To Know About Tanzania’s Treatment Of The LGBTQ Community