Tanzania: President Disappears, Fueling Coronavirus Rumors

Tanzania's newly elected president John Magufuli delivers a speech during the swearing in ceremony in Dar es Salaam, on November 5, 2015. (Daniel Hayduk/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniel Hayduk/AFP via Getty Images

Tanzanian President John Magufuli is allegedly in India receiving medical treatment for the Chinese coronavirus, Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu told Reuters on Thursday.

Magufuli was “flown to Kenya’s Nairobi Hospital at the start of this week and then on to an unknown destination in India,” Lissu told Reuters on March 11.

“He’s comatose since yesterday morning,” the politician claimed, without providing further details.

Lissu did not provide Reuters with evidence for his claims, instead citing unidentified medical and security officials in Kenya as his information sources.

Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27 during a ceremony at the Tanzanian State House in Dar es Salaam. His nearly two week-absence from the public eye since then sparked speculation he may be ill.

“We’re informed when [former Tanzanian President Jakaya] Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re told when [former Tanzanian President Benjamin] Mkapa went for hip replacement … What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?” Lissu, who lost Tanzania’s last presidential election in 2020 to Magufuli, wrote in a Twitter statement on March 9:

Reuters said Thursday it reached out to the governments of Kenya and India to inquire about Magufuli’s whereabouts but had not received any information. Magufuli’s director of communications, Gerson Msigwa, and Tanzanian government spokesman Hassan Abbas have likewise failed to respond to Reuters’ requests for information on Magufuli.

Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported on Wednesday “an African leader,” whom it did not name, was being treated for the Chinese coronavirus at Nairobi Hospital and was allegedly on a ventilator. The newspaper cited unidentified political and diplomatic sources in Kenya for the information. Nairobi Hospital representatives told Reuters on Thursday they had “no information to disclose” when asked about the matter.

Tanzania’s constitution stipulates the country’s vice president, currently Samia Suluhu Hassan, assumes presidential duties should the president prove unable to discharge his or her duties.

Magufuli made international headlines over the past year for repeatedly insisting his countrymen would not be locked down or forced to wear masks during the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic. He also claimed in May that coronavirus testing kits imported to Tanzania from China had returned positive test results for a goat and a pawpaw, a papaya-like fruit.

Magufuli encouraged Tanzanians to pray away the coronavirus instead of wearing sanitary masks in March 2020. He endorsed natural remedies to cure symptoms of coronavirus on January 27 in lieu of getting vaccines, which he warned could be dangerous to people’s health.

“Vaccines are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS,” the president said during the opening of a new farm in northwestern Tanzania’s Gaita region.

“We Tanzanians haven’t locked ourselves in and we don’t expect to lock ourselves down. I don’t expect to announce any lockdown because our God is living and He will continue to protect Tanzanians,” he said.

“We will also continue to take health precautions including the use of steam inhalation,” Magufuli added.

“You inhale while you pray to God, you pray while farming maize, potatoes, so that you can eat well and corona fails to enter your body [sic]. They will scare you a lot, my fellow Tanzanians, but you should stand firm,” he said.

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