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  • Schuyler Beltrami

President of Tanzania dies at the Age of 61

The former President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, has died at the age of 61. The opposition in his country says he died because of COVID-19, which he had recently labeled as defeated in his country.

Former President Magufuli of Tanzania. (Photo: Getty)

Tanzania is a large country on the Indian Ocean in Eastern Africa. Home to the world-famous Mount Kilimanjaro and welcoming thousands of tourists a year for safaris in the African wilderness, Tanzania has enjoyed relative prosperity in the last decades. The country was one of the few in Africa to hold regular, fairly free elections (even if the opposition is weak and the government regularly cracks down on its most vocal opponents), but since the most recent presidential election in November of 2020, the ruling CCM party and its leader, President Magufuli, have tightened the grip on power in the country. Perhaps one of the strangest and most dangerous methods of taking more control over the country, was the forbidding of reporting of new COVID cases in the country. This led Tanzania to become one of the few countries in the world with zero official cases of the Coronavirus, despite evidence of the contrary being secretly spilled out of the country by nurses and doctors. According to Freedom House, mass graves of COVID victims were located within the country and reported on social media, foreign embassies detailed just how extensive COVID had spread within the country, and truck drivers driving to neighboring countries routinely tested positive for the virus upon crossing international borders. Soon after the initial outbreak of the pandemic, President Magufuli joined the small chorus of world leaders, along with Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who disputed the usefulness of masks and COVID testing, and instead pointed to religion and traditional healing methods as the best way to fight off the Coronavirus.

According to The Economist, Mr. Magufuli had announced in April of 2020 that the Coronavirus had been defeated through prayer and had been “executed by God”. He further called for a national celebration in the country’s capital of Dodoma. According to various reports, the WHO called the treatment of Coronavirus in Tanzania as being “highly questionable”. Mr. Magufuli also refused to close churches in the country, saying that “the Coronavirus is the Devil and cannot survive in the body of Jesus” according to The Economist. Mr. Magufuli also disagreed with the effectiveness of testing. He instructed the Tanzanian military to test for COVID on random objects, such as papaya, sheep, and motor oil, and when these objects apparently tested positive for the virus, he quickly used this as a reason to stop COVID testing in the country. In one of his last speeches in January 2021, he also rejected the effectiveness of vaccines, saying “Vaccinations are dangerous. If white people were able to come up with vaccinations, a vaccination for AIDS would have been found”. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence for the effectiveness of vaccines, Mr. Magufuli continued to insist that herbal medicine is the most effective treatment for COVID, a view which has been rejected by the WHO.

Mr. Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February, and many news outlets around the world, including The Guardian and Reuters, pointed to widespread rumors both within Tanzania and internationally, that the President was sick. Later, a newspaper in Kenya reported that Mr. Magufuli was receiving treatment for COVID in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, though there was no evidence for this report. The President of Tanzania was confirmed to have died on March 17, 2021. According to the Government, he died as a result of “chronic atrial fibrillation”, but the opposition in the country quickly pointed out that Mr. Magufuli had the traditional symptoms of COVID before disappearing for over a month and attributed his death to the virus.

Mr. Magufuli was succeeded by his Vice President, Samia Suluhu, the first female President of Tanzania, and only the third in East Africa’s history. The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2025.

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