John Magufuli, who presided over an increasingly authoritarian regime as president of Tanzania and, during the final year of his reign, rejected scientific evidence of the coronavirus pandemic, urging his citizens to raise their voices in prayer rather than cover their faces with masks, died March 17 at a hospital in Dar es Salaam.
He was 61.
The death was announced in a statement by Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who cited “heart complications” as the cause.
There had been earlier unconfirmed reports from opposition leaders, which Mr. Magufuli’s government denied, that he had been hospitalized in Nairobi for covid-19. He was last seen in public on February 27.
Mr Magufuli, who was trained as a chemist and once was a teacher, served as Tanzania’s minister of public works from 2005 to 2015, earning the nickname “the Bulldozer” as much for his blunt, domineering manner as for his building projects.
His outspoken religiosity, inspired in part by his devotion to a charismatic Nigerian evangelist named T.B. Joshua, helped shape his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
From the beginning, Mr Magufuli emulated U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, suggesting that the virus posed little risk, that medical experts could not be trusted and that economic health was the paramount concern.
He mocked health-safety measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing and fired government health officials if they disagreed. He advocated steam baths and folk remedies. Above all, he called for prayer.
“Our enemies will say a lot, but here in Tanzania we are safe,” he said in August 2020, according to the New York Times. “We put God first, and God heard us.”
When coronavirus testing began, Mr Magufuli insisted that animals, plants and even motor oil be tested, to see if false positive results could be obtained. On a single day in May 2020, more than 50 Tanzanian truck drivers crossing the border into Kenya tested positive for the coronavirus.
That month, Mr Magufuli’s government stopped reporting coronavirus statistics to the World Health Organization.
The numbers remained frozen at 509 infections and 21 deaths, prompting Mr. Magufuli to declare the pandemic “absolutely finished” in Tanzania.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared seven days of national mourning in honour of the Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli who died on Wednesday night.
While addressing the nation at State House, Nairobi on Thursday morning, President Kenyatta also directed that all Kenyan and East African Community flags in Kenya and across all its diplomatic missions abroad will be flown at half-mast during the mourning period.
Mr Kenyatta, who is also the chairperson of the East African Community (EAC), in his message of condolence eulogised Magufuli as a friend and a pan-Africanist.
“Magufuli was a champion of Pan-Africanism. I have lost a friend and an ally. Africa and the world have lost a leader who steered the EAC and the continent,” he said.
“On behalf of the government and people of Kenya I convey our sincere condolences to the First Lady of Tanzania, Janet Magufuli,” added President Kenyatta.