Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli has died at the age of 61, after weeks of speculation that he was infected with COVID-19.
Announcing the President’s death in a live television broadcast, the country’s Vice-President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, said the President died on Wednesday, March 17, from heart complications at a hospital in Dar es Salaam.
“Our beloved president passed on at 6 p.m. this evening,” said Suluhu.
“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.”
President John Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 skeptics. He had downplayed the severity of the virus and called for prayers and herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the virus.
At one point, he made fun of the country’s coronavirus testing facilities, saying he had secretly sent samples of papaya and goat and that they came out positive.
He said that those results could mean that people were getting false positive results.
Shortly afterward, Tanzania stopped sharing updates on the number of people infected and killed due to COVID-19.
The country’s last coronavirus figures were given in May last year. At that time, 509 people were confirmed to have contracted the virus and 29 had died.
As neighboring countries Kenya and Uganda were implementing lockdowns and curfews to curb the spread of COVID-19, President Magufuli shocked many by declaring that Tanzania would remain open for business.
He also discouraged Covid-19 vaccines.
“Vaccines don’t work,” he claimed in a speech to an unmasked crowd in late January. “If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been brought. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a thing of the past. Vaccines for malaria would have been found. Vaccines for cancer would have been found.”
Then, Magufuli’s had disappeared from view over the past two weeks, leading to speculation that he had been hospitalized with COVID-19.
Mr. Magufuli’s death came just days after speculations that he was sick with the virus.
The rumors started swirling after Mr. Lissu, the opposition figure in exile, said that the president had Covid-19 and was being treated in a hospital in neighboring Kenya.
Mr. Lissu urged the authorities to disclose the whereabouts of the president, who had not been seen in public for almost two weeks. Mr. Magufuli did not attend a virtual summit for leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27.
Tanzanian officials dismissed the rumors and said that Mr. Magufuli was working as usual.