Tanzania's president John Magufuli dies aged 61 amid health rumours

18 March 2021, 00:14 | Updated: 18 March 2021, 00:19

Tanzania's President John Magufuli has died aged 61
Tanzania's President John Magufuli has died aged 61. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Tanzania's President John Magufuli has died aged 61 amid health rumours, the country's vice-president has announced.

The prominent coronavirus sceptic died from a heart failure at a hospital in the former capital Dar es Salaam on Wednesday.

Mr Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February, sparking rumours online that he was sick and possibly incapacitated.

However, top government officials had denied the claims, which included an unconfirmed story that he had contracted Covid-19.

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in an address on state television: "Our beloved president passed on at 6pm this evening.

"All flags will be flown at half-mast for 14 days. It is sad news. The president has had this illness for the past 10 years."

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter: "I'm sorry to hear that @MagufuliJP, President of Tanzania, has passed away. My thoughts are with his loved ones and the people of Tanzania."

Read more: Africa tops three million confirmed coronavirus cases

Read more: Eswatini’s PM dies with Covid as virus surges in southern Africa

Tanzania's Vice President Samia Suluhu confirmed the leader's death on Wednesday
Tanzania's Vice President Samia Suluhu confirmed the leader's death on Wednesday. Picture: PA
President Magufuli was one of the most prominent coronavirus sceptics in Africa
President Magufuli was one of the most prominent coronavirus sceptics in Africa. Picture: PA

Mr Magufuli's populist rule and denial of Covid-19 often cast his East African country in a harsh international spotlight.

Last year, he said Tanzania had eradicated the virus through three days of national prayer and at one point called for herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the disease.

The Indian Ocean coastal nation has not reported its confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020.

However, the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems has reportedly grown and, earlier this month, the US embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of Covid cases in Tanzania since January.

The president's critics have argued that his dismissal of the threat from coronavirus, plus his refusal to put the country into lockdown like others in the region, may have contributed to many unknown deaths.

Read more: Medical oxygen scarce in Africa and Latin America amid pandemic

Read more: Okonjo-Iweala becomes first woman and African to head WTO

Vice President Hassan will be sworn in as the new president, according to the country's constitution.

She will serve the rest of Mr Magufuli's five-year term, which commenced last year. He was first elected to the position in 2015 and was re-elected last year.

The Tanzanian leader was last seen in public on 27 February, but Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa later insisted that he was "healthy and working hard".

Mr Majaliwa claimed the rumours about the president's ill-health were being spread by "hateful" nationals living overseas, despite rumours that he had contracted Covid-19.

The 61-year-old was born on 29 October 1959 in the rural area of Chato in the country's north-west. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1988 and a doctorate in chemistry from the same university in 2009.

He was first elected as an MP in 1995 and became a cabinet minister in 2000, before being elected as president in 2015.