Tanzanian President John Magufuli, one of Africa’s most prominent Covid-19 deniers, died after a two-week absence from public life, prompting speculation that he had contracted the disease.
Magufuli’s death was announced on Wednesday by the country’s vice president, Samia Suluhu, who said the president died of heart failure. He was 61 years old.
“The President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the Honorable Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli… [has] he died of a heart condition, at the Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam, where he was receiving treatment, “he told state broadcaster TBC.
Magufuli had not been seen in public since February 27 and rumors spread online that he was ill and possibly incapacitated from the disease. Government officials had insisted that Magufuli was working normally and that citizens should ignore rumors from outside the country. Last week, the country’s opposition leader Tundu Lissu told the BBC that Magafuli was seriously ill in a Kenyan hospital after contracting Covid-19.
The mystery surrounding the president’s whereabouts and condition sparked fear and anxiety in Tanzania. Police had arrested four people in the country since last week for allegedly spreading false information about the health of political leaders.
Magufuli had repeatedly denied that Covid-19 was spreading in the East African country and claimed without evidence that vaccines are dangerous, suggesting instead that people pray and inhale herbal-infused vapor.
Despite numerous requests from the World Health Organization, Tanzania has not released any statistics on cases since May, when it recorded 509 infections. It does not have a known testing program and health officials are prohibited from mentioning the virus.
But the number of deaths of people experiencing respiratory problems reportedly grew, and earlier this month the US embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Tanzania since January. Days later, the presidency announced the death of John Kijazi, Magufuli’s chief secretary.
Shortly after, the death of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had previously reported that he had Covid-19, was announced.
Critics said that Magufuli’s rejection of the Covid-19 threat, as well as his refusal to shut down the country as others in the region had done, may have contributed to many unknown deaths.
“He has never worn a mask, he has been going to massive public gatherings without taking the precautions that people are taking all over the world,” Lissu told the BBC last week. “This is someone who has publicly and repeatedly destroyed established medicine. He has relied on prayers and herbal concoctions of unproven value, ”he said.
Family members of Covid-19 victims, healthcare workers and opposition figures have held Magufuli responsible for potentially thousands of deaths.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism