John Magufuli, Tanzania Leader Who Played Down Covid, Dies at 61

NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist chief who performed down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his nation away from democratic beliefs, died on Wednesday within the port metropolis of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan mentioned in a quick televised tackle that Mr. Magufuli had died of coronary heart issues whereas being handled at Mzena Hospital. The announcement adopted greater than every week of intense hypothesis that Mr. Magufuli was critically ailing with Covid-19 — studies that senior authorities officers had repeatedly denied.

Ms. Hassan didn’t specify Mr. Magufuli’s underlying sickness however mentioned that he had suffered from power atrial fibrillation for greater than a decade. She introduced 14 days of nationwide mourning and mentioned that flags would fly at half-staff nationwide.

According to the Tanzanian Constitution, Ms. Hassan shall be sworn in as president to serve the rest of the five-year time period that Mr. Magufuli started when he gained re-election final October. The transfer will make her Tanzania’s first feminine chief.

Mr. Magufuli, a educated chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the financial system, stem wasteful spending and improve Tanzania’s infrastructure.

But the chief, popularly generally known as “the Bulldozer,” was quickly accused of muzzling dissent, rolling again freedom of expression and affiliation, and pushing by way of legal guidelines that shored up his Party of the Revolution’s grip on energy.

That marked a pointy departure from insurance policies of his two fast predecessors, who had promoted their East African nation as a peaceable, business-friendly democracy.

During his first time period, Mr. Magufuli’s authorities banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and launched legal guidelines that critics mentioned repressed impartial reporting. He additionally mentioned that pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed at school.

Rights teams accused his authorities of failing to hold out credible investigations into the killings, abductions and persecution of journalists who have been important of the federal government and opposition figures.

As Mr. Magufuli sought a second time period final fall, the authorities made it tougher for opposition events to marketing campaign, froze the financial institution accounts of civil society teams, denied accreditation to election observers and journalists, and refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.

On voting day, no less than 10 folks have been killed when violence broke out within the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar after residents mentioned they’d seen troopers delivering marked ballots.

Mr. Magufuli gained that election with 84 p.c of the vote amid accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities. Tundu Lissu, the principle opposition candidate operating in opposition to him, was accused of making an attempt to overthrow the federal government and needed to depart the nation. He stays in exile in Belgium.

Over the previous yr, Mr. Magufuli got here beneath intense criticism at dwelling and overseas for his dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic. He railed in opposition to masks and social distancing, promoted unproven treatments as cures and mentioned that God had helped the nation get rid of the virus.

Tanzania has not shared information on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization since April, and it has reported simply 509 circumstances and 21 deaths, figures which were extensively considered with skepticism.

As vaccine rollouts started worldwide, Mr. Magufuli discouraged the Health Ministry from securing doses for Tanzania.

“Vaccines don’t work,” he claimed in a speech to a maskless crowd in late January. “If the white man was in a position to provide you with vaccinations, then vaccines for AIDS would have been introduced. Vaccines for tuberculosis would have made it a factor of the previous. Vaccines for malaria would have been discovered. Vaccines for most cancers would have been discovered.”

Such statements drew condemnation from the World Health Organization in addition to the Roman Catholic Church in Tanzania. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O. regional director for Africa, urged the Tanzanian authorities to arrange the infrastructure to distribute the doses, writing on Twitter, “Science reveals that #VaccinesWork.”

In February, the United States Embassy in Tanzania warned of “a major enhance within the variety of Covid-19 circumstances” and mentioned that “restricted hospital capability all through Tanzania might lead to life-threatening delays for emergency medical care.”

Mr. Magufuli’s dying got here simply days after hypothesis that he was sick with the virus. The rumors began swirling after Mr. Lissu, the opposition determine in exile, mentioned that the president had Covid-19 and was being handled in a hospital in neighboring Kenya.

Mr. Lissu urged the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the president, who had not been seen in public for nearly two weeks. Mr. Magufuli didn’t attend a digital summit for leaders of the East African regional bloc on Feb. 27.

Tanzanian officers had dismissed the hypothesis and mentioned that Mr. Magufuli was working as traditional.

After Mr. Magufuli’s dying was introduced on Wednesday, the chief of opposition occasion Act Wazalendo referred to as on Tanzanians to point out “endurance and understanding” because the nation undergoes a important transitional interval.

“This is an unprecedented second,” the opposition occasion chief, Zitto Kabwe, mentioned in an announcement, “one that may undoubtedly transfer us all in very private methods.”

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was born on Oct. 29, 1959, within the district of Chato in what’s now northwestern Tanzania and was then generally known as Tanganyika. He earned a bachelor’s diploma in training from the University of Dar es Salaam and, in 2009, a doctorate in chemistry from the identical college, in accordance with the presidential workplace’s web site.

Before changing into president, he was a member of Tanzania’s Parliament and held quite a lot of cupboard posts. He developed a status for combating corruption whereas working in cupboard positions, together with because the minister of lands, fisheries and public works.

Mr. Magufuli is survived by his spouse, Janet, a primary-school trainer; and two kids.

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