Mixed Emotions After Death Of Tanzania’s COVID-19 Skeptic President
Tanzanian president John Magufuli died on Wednesday following a three week absence from public view.

JOHANNESBURG –The death of Tanzanian President and COVID-19 skeptic John Magufuli has drawn decidedly mixed emotions  – as tributes poured in from both average Tanzanians, as well as other African heads of state and world leaders. But Tanzanian opposition forces said that the president’s mysterious death was a chance for a reboot on both Tanzania’s pandemic response as well as  other vital reform issues.

The responses followed Wednesday’s announcement of Magufuli’s death by the country’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, set to take over as Tanzania’s first female president, while saying that Magufuli’s death was due to heart failure.

Magufuli, a prominent skeptic of the coronavirus,  died at Mzena Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was receiving treatment for heart complications he had been suffering from for a decade, according to Hassan.

But his fiercest critic and opposition and main opposition leader Tundu Lissu on Thursday claimed that Magufuli, 61,  had in fact died of the coronavirus, calling his death “poetic justice” following Magufuli downplaying the severity of the COVID-19.  Since last May, Tanzania had steadily suppressed reports of any COVID cases to the World Health Organization – pressuring medical doctors to cite causes other than COVID in hospital records and on death certificates. 

Lissu charged that the Tanzanian government was not being honest about the cause of Maguguli’s death, saying they were “lying even now that he is dead”.

Magufuli died of corona,” said Lissu, speaking from Belgium in an interview broadcast on Kenyan network KTN News, citing personal sources.  “My message to Tanzania is that this is an opportunity to open a new chapter….This is a rare opportunity for us to step back from disaster and go back to sanity,” the opposition leader added.


Magufuli Downplayed COVID-19

Magufuli had scoffed at the coronavirus, championing alternative medicines and calling for prayer instead of face masks. Then three weeks ago, shortly after two senior officials in his government died of COVID-19, Magufuli disappeared from public view.  His disappearance immediately fuelled rumours that he had contracted COVID-19, but his illness remained unconfirmed, and its precise nature, was not disclosed. 

 “President Magufuli did not wear a face mask. He actually denigrated anyone who wore face masks. He did not believe in vaccines, he did not believe in science,” said Lissu.

“He placed his faith in faith healers and herbal concoctions of dubious medical value. And what has happened, happened. He went down with corona.” 

Magaguli downplayed the pandemic and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy against Africans.  Magufuli claimed prayer had beaten the virus.

Tanzania has not updated its COVID-19 cases or deaths since May, 2020 when the country had recorded a total of 509 cases and 16 deaths, but a doctor in Dar es Salaam told the BBC that there has been a significant increase in the last two months in admissions of patients exhibiting respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19. 

Hassan said Magufuli was admitted on 6 March to Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute for heart problems and discharged the next day. A week later he felt bad and was rushed to Mzena Hospital where he was getting treatment under the supervision of doctors from the cardiac institute. Hassan said burial arrangements were underway and announced 14 days of mourning and the flying of flags at half-staff.  

Vice President Hassan Set To Become Tanzania’s First Female President
Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan should assume the Presidency following the death of President John Magufuli.

Despite his reputation as a COVID-skeptic, fellow African leaders heaped praise on Magufuli’s leadership, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announcing that flags in Kenya and all Kenyan diplomatic missions abroad will be flown at half-mast from Thursday 18, until Magufuli’s burial.

“In testimony of the high esteem in which the People of Kenya hold President John Pombe Magufuli, the Republic of Kenya will observe a period of seven days of national mourning,” Uhuru Kenyatta said. “As a symbol of Kenya’s enduring respect for Magufuli, as well as Kenya’s solemn solidarity with the Nation and People of the United Republic of Tanzania,” flags in Kenya and its diplomatic missions will be flown at half-mast, he added. Kenyatta termed Magufuli as a champion of pan-African ideals.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said: “South Africa is united in grief with the government and people of Tanzania as they go through this difficult moment.”

According to Tanzania’s Constitution, Vice President Samia Hassan will assume the presidency for the remainder of the five-year term that Magufuli began serving last year after winning a second term. She is the East African nation’s first female president. 








Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.