Missing Tanzanian President Declared Dead of ‘Heart Illness’ amid Coronavirus Rumors

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli gestures while arriving at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, for the inauguration of Incumbent South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 25, 2019. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP) (Photo credit should read MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images)
MICHELE SPATARI/AFP via Getty Images

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has died at the age of 61 from a heart illness, Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Wednesday.

“Dear Tanzanians, it is sad to announce that today 17 March 2021 around 6:00 p.m. we lost our brave leader, President John Magufuli, who died from heart disease at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was getting treatment,” Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said during a state television broadcast on March 17. Tanzania will now enter a two-week national mourning period for Magufuli, the vice president added.

Magufuli was admitted to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 6, Hassan said during her speech on Wednesday. The revelation puts to rest weeks of rumors surrounding Magufuli’s nearly three-week disappearance from the public eye since he was last seen on February 27 in Dar es Salaam during a ceremony at the Tanzanian State House. The Tanzanian government’s initial refusal to comment on the president’s whereabouts fueled speculation that he had fallen ill, with some alleging that he had contracted the Chinese coronavirus.

Vice President Hassan seemed to make cryptic references to Magufuli’s illness on Monday during a speech marking the launch of a government project in Tanga, a town in Tanzania’s northeast.

“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 referred. The vice president similarly acknowledged “rumors flying around” Tanzania during her speech, without specifying which rumors she referred to or what they claimed.

“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,” Hassan said.

Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa claimed Magufuli was “safe” and working on March 12 while urging Tanzanians to “ignore fake news” concerning the president’s health status.

“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.

Tanzanian security forces arrested at least four people for allegedly spreading “false information” about Magufuli’s health on social media in recent days, demonstrating the government’s desire to clamp down on speculation surrounding the head of state.

Magufuli’s death on Wednesday comes just five months after he won a second five-year term as Tanzania’s president in October in a disputed election. Magufuli was first elected president of Tanzania in 2015 after the country’s left-wing ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, chose him to succeed former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete. The former parliamentarian was nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for his aggressive leadership style, which saw him push through policies he championed despite opposition from government factions.

Magufli’s policies surrounding the Chinese coronavirus pandemic – which included blanket refusals to force Tanzanians into lockdown or to wear sanitary masks, and an endorsement of alternative remedies for coronavirus, such as prayer and steam inhalation – contributed to fervid speculation over the past few weeks that the president had contracted coronavirus during his disappearance from the public eye.

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