Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died, his government announced on its official Facebook page Wednesday.
The 61-year-old president, who usually made weekly public appearances at Sunday church services, had not been seen since February 27, fueling speculation that he was ill and was being treated abroad.
A Tanzanian opposition leader called on the government to tell the public about the president’s health amid growing speculation, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, said in a statement. “The president’s health is not supposed to be a secret.”
Tanzanian President John Magufuli attended the inauguration of Incumbent South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 25, 2019.
Known as “The Bulldozer” for his tough stance against corruption and for his hardline policies, Magufuli swept to victory in October 2015 as Tanzania’s fifth president.
But excitement over Magufuli’s intolerance for corruption was shortlived as he began a clampdown on democracy and critical voices.
Magufuli oversaw closures and suspensions of numerous media outlets, while his government undermined judicial and parliamentary independence, implemented a partial ban on public rallies, harassed MPs, closed online political space, and prosecuted critics under defamation and sedition laws.
Early on in the pandemic, Magufuli dismissed the seriousness of coronavirus in Tanzania, urging his citizens to “pray coronavirus away,” believing the “satanic virus can’t live in the body of Jesus Christ,” and blaming the growing number of positive cases on faulty test kits.
In June, he claimed his country had eradicated coronavirus “by the grace of God,” questioned the safety of foreign Covid-19 vaccines and made no plan to procure any shots for his country, instead pushing for the use of herbal medicine and steam treatments.
Tanzania hasn’t reported Covid-19 figures since April 2020, prompting the World Health Organization to call for Tanzania to publish data on the coronavirus and ramp up public health measures.
Last month, the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned that Covid-19 cases had been surging since January.