The news of Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s death elicited mixed reactions, with many expressing sadness, but one critic expressing resentment, claiming that he suffered under the president’s rule, which he claimed reduced the country’s democratic space.
Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan reported on national television Wednesday night that Magufuli, one of Africa’s most famous COVID-19 skeptics, died of heart failure. Hassan is set to be sworn in as Magufuli’s successor, completing his second five-year term, which he had just recently begun after winning elections late last year. She will become Tanzania’s first female president.
Tanzania’s opposition leader has been vocal in his criticism of Magufuli as tributes from other African heads of state arrive.
“It’s poetic justice,” opposition leader Tundu Lissu said of Magufuli’s death on Thursday, claiming he died of COVID-19.
“In the battle against COVID-19, President Magufuli defied the world. He stood up to the East African culture and all of our neighbors. He defied the laws of physics. On the Kenya Television Network, Lissu said, “He declined to take the simple precautions that people all over the world are being advised to take in the battle against COVID-19.”
“He didn’t hide his face behind a mask. Anyone who wore a face mask was mocked by him. Vaccines were not something he believed in. He was a skeptic of science. He trusted faith healers and herbal concoctions of questionable medical value,” Lissu explained. “And what has happened?” says the narrator. He was killed by COVID-19. They are now telling us that he had heart disease. Corona is what it is.”
Magufuli said in September 2017 that those who opposed his economic reforms deserved to die, according to Lissu, who spoke from exile in Belgium. Lissu was shot 16 times shortly after, and he fled the country for Belgium.
Lissu has returned to Tanzania to run against Magufuli in the upcoming elections in October 2020. In elections marred by violence and widespread charges of vote fraud, he lost to Magufuli. Thousands of opposition observers were barred from watching the elections by government security forces. After criticizing the elections and arguing that he was not safe, Lissu returned to Belgium.
Magufuli’s death did not surprise Lissu, who had received “credible intelligence” that the president was gravely ill since March 7.
“What shocks me is that his government continues to lie about the cause and time of his death,” he said.
He said that the informed sources who informed him of Magufuli’s illness also informed him that the president had died on March 10.
Magufuli had not been seen in public since February 27, when he swore in a new chief secretary after his predecessor died of COVID-19, according to many.
For days, government officials denied he was sick, saying he was too busy to make public appearances and that the president is not required to do so.
“This is the time to start a new chapter in Tanzania,” Lissu said. “Magufuli created chaos in our country during his five years as president. In the last five years, a substantial number of people have been killed. Many individuals have been assaulted, tortured, and persecuted. I just made it out alive.”
“He is no longer alive, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for our country to come together for national reconciliation,” he said.
Magufuli’s leadership has been praised by other African leaders.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the chairman of the East African Community, has declared a seven-day national mourning period during which the country’s flag will be flown at half-mast.
“I have lost a friend, a colleague, and a visionary ally in President Magufuli’s passing, especially on our commitment to build lasting bonds between Kenya and Tanzania,” Kenyatta said in a live broadcast Thursday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has expressed his sorrow over Magufuli’s death.
Ramaphosa wrote, “South Africa is united in sorrow with the government and people of Tanzania as they face this painful moment.”
“Africa mourns with you,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter, expressing his condolences to Tanzanians.
In a statement, the US expressed its condolences to Tanzanians and said that it “remains committed to continuing to help Tanzanians as they fight for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and work to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.” Tanzania, we hope, will continue on its democratic and stable path.”