Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli has died, aged 61. The Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan has announced.
In a statement read on TV live, the Vice president said that Mr Magufuli had died on Wednesday at 6pm from heart complications, at a hospital in Dar es Salaam.
For more about two weeks reports of how the president had been sneaked into Kenya for Covid-19 treatment have been ripe in Tanzania. However, his government continuously denied the news calling it baseless rumours despite his absence from the public.
Once praised for his no-nonsense approach, he went on to become a controversial leader, especially over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Magufuli whose first term as president started in 2015, was re-elected for a second term in 2020 amid opposition accusations of fraud and intimidation.
Before he became president he was nicknamed the “the bulldozer” for driving a programme to build roads as minister for works, and later was hailed for his anti-corruption stance and his distinct dislike for wasting money.
As president he was also accused of cracking down on dissent and curtailing certain freedoms, but following his death reflections on his time in power will be dominated by his idiosyncratic handling of Covid-19.
When Covid-19 arrived in Tanzania, President Magufuli did not believe in people staying at home. He wanted them to get into the churches and mosques to pray.
“Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly,” Magufuli, a devout Christian, pronounced from the altar of a church in the capital, Dodoma.
Since June 2020, when he declared the country “Covid-19 free”, the president, along with other top government officials, mocked the efficacy of masks, doubted if testing worked, and teased neighbouring countries which imposed health measures to curb the virus.
There was little testing and no plans were made for a vaccination programme, leaving the country as an outlier.
But when he was sworn in as president in October 2015, Magufuli seemed to be the sort of person Tanzania needed – an efficient, incorruptible leader.
His results-oriented actions were also framed as applicable to other African countries – a dose of what the continent needed to deal with its governance issues.
On the very first day of his presidency, he sent a stark message that he would not tolerate the country’s chronic absenteeism in its civil service, when he visited the finance ministry offices, asking for the whereabouts of those not at work.
He also purged thousands of so-called “ghost workers” – essentially non-existent employees – from the public payroll, and fired officials considered corrupt or under-performing, in public. Sometimes this was even done live on television.
John Magufuli at a glance:
•Born in Chato, north-west Tanzania, in 1959.
•Studied chemistry and maths at the University of Dar es Salaam.
•Worked as a chemistry and maths teacher.
•First elected as an MP in 1995.
•Became a cabinet minister in 2000.
•First elected president in 2015.
•Won second term in 2020.