Tanzania: As President Nears One Month Missing, VP Vaguely References ‘Flu’

Tanzanian president President John Magufuli waves to Tanzanians as he arrives for his swearing in ceremony in Dodoma, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (AP Photo)
AP Photo

Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan seemed to imply that Tanzanian President John Magufuli was sick on Monday amid unproven rumors that he may have contracted the Chinese coronavirus since he disappeared from the public eye last month.

“It’s quite normal for a person’s body to be indisposed and contract the flu or develop a fever,” Hassan said on March 15, without clarifying to whom she was referring. The vice president made the remarks at the launch of a government project in Tanzania’s northeastern town of Tanga.

Hassan likewise acknowledged “rumors flying around” Tanzania during her speech, without specifying which rumors or what they claimed; the vice president warned Tanzania’s citizens against trusting such “outside” information.

“As Tanzanians, we must work together, be united and build our nation. Most of the rumors you hear don’t originate in Tanzania … they come from outside the country. I ask you to ignore them. If it’s about prayers, pray, but all in all, we should remain united and take Tanzania forward. We’re safe,” she said.

President Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27 in Dar es Salaam during a government ceremony held at the Tanzanian State House. He has remained out of the public eye for over two weeks since then. The extended absence is unusual for Magufuli, as he regularly speaks at church congregations and political rallies. The Tanzanian government’s refusal to confirm Magufuli’s whereabouts over the past 17 days has fueled speculation that he may have fallen ill. Tanzania’s opposition party alleged without evidence on March 11 that Magufuli had been airlifted first to Nairobi, Kenya, and then to India to receive medical treatment after contracting the Chinese coronavirus.

Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa broke the government’s silence on Magufli’s status on March 12, claiming he was “safe” and working.

“The prime minister asked Tanzanians to be calm because President John Magufuli is safe and he is going about his work,” the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation quoted Majaliwa as saying while urging Tanzanians to “ignore fake news.”

Police in Tanzania have arrested four people in recent days for allegedly spreading “false information” about Magufuli’s health via social media.

“[T]he Kilimanjaro Regional Police Force is said to be holding two people on suspicion of spreading false information on social media concerning senior government officials’ health, contrary to the law,” Tanzanian newspaper the Citizen reported on Monday. “This brings the number of suspects arrested in connection with spreading online fabricated information related to the health of President John Magufuli to four after two such cases were reported on Sunday [March 14] and Saturday [March 13].”

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