Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli died on Wednesday at the age of 61.
His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.
Ms Suluhu did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-mast nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.
Handling Covid-19 controversially
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, Magufuli had downplayed the severity of the virus. At one point, he made fun of the country’s coronavirus testing facilities, saying he had secretly sent samples of papaya and goat and that they came out positive. Though he never provided proof of that claim, he warned that those results could mean that people were getting false positive results.
Shortly afterward, Tanzania stopped sharing updates on the number of people infected and killed due to COVID-19. The country’s last coronavirus figures were given in May last year. At that time, 509 people were confirmed to have contracted the virus and 29 had died.
As neighboring countries Kenya and Uganda were implementing lockdowns and curfews to curb the spread of COVID-19, President Magufuli shocked many by declaring that Tanzania would remain open for business.
“We Tanzanians have not locked ourselves down, and I don’t expect to announce even a single day that we are implementing a lockdown because our God is still alive, and he will continue protecting us Tanzanians,” the late president once told a crowd. “But we shall also continue taking precautions, including steaming. You steam, at the same time pray to God, and going on with your daily activities so that you eat well and your body builds immunity against the coronavirus.”
After Zanzibar’s first Vice President Seif Sharif Hamad died from the virus in February, Magufuli and to a larger extent Tanzanians, began to acknowledge the severe risk of contracting the deadly pathogen. Tanzania’s Health Ministry later issued instructions urging citizens to observe COVID prevention protocols.
Who was John Pombe Magufuli?
First elected as a Member of Parliament in 1995, he served in the Cabinet of Tanzania as Deputy Minister of Works from 1995 to 2000, Minister of Works from 2000 to 2006, Minister of Lands and Human Settlement from 2006 to 2008, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries from 2008 to 2010, and as Minister of Works for a second time from 2010 to 2015.
Running as the candidate of the ruling party in Tanzania (CCM), Magufuli won the October 2015 presidential election and was sworn in on 5 November 2015. Magufuli ran on a platform of reducing government corruption and spending while also investing in Tanzania’s industries, but had been accused of having increasing autocratic tendencies brought on by restrictions on freedom of speech and a crackdown on members of the political opposition.
Magufuli started his education at The Chato Primary School from 1967 to 1974 and went on to The Katoke Seminary in Biharamulo for his secondary education from 1975 to 1977 before relocating to Lake Secondary School in 1977 and graduating in 1978.
He joined Mkwawa High School for his Advanced level studies in 1979 and graduated in 1981. That same year he joined Mkwawa College of Education (a constituent college of the University of Dar es Salaam) for a Diploma in Education Science, majoring in Chemistry, Mathematics and Education.
Magufuli earned his bachelor of science in education degree majoring in chemistry and mathematics as teaching subjects from the University of Dar es Salaam in 1988. He also earned his masters and doctorate degrees in chemistry from The University of Dar es Salaam, in 1994 and 2009, respectively. In late 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dodoma for improving the economy of the country.
Early life and political career
John Joseph Magufuli ventured into elective politics after a short period as a teacher at The Sengerema Secondary School between 1982 and 1983. He taught chemistry and mathematics. Later on, he quit his teaching job and was employed by The Nyanza Cooperative Union Limited as an industrial chemist.
He remained there from 1989 to 1995, when he was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) representing Chato district. He was appointed Deputy Minister for Works in his first term as MP.
He retained his seat in the 2000 election and was promoted to a full ministerial position under the same docket. After President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete was requested to take office, he moved John Joseph Magufuli to the post of Minister of Lands and Human Settlement on 4 January 2006.
Subsequently, Magufuli served as Minister of Livestock and Fisheries from 2008 to 2010 and again as Minister of Works from 2010 to 2015.
2015 presidential election
On 12 July 2015 Magufuli was nominated as CCM’s presidential candidate for the 2015 election, winning the majority votes against his opponent Justice Minister and former United Nations Deputy Secretary General Miss Asha-Rose Migiro and the African Union Ambassador to the United States of America, Miss Amina Salum Ali for the party’s nomination.
Although Magufuli faced a strong challenge from opposition candidate and previous CCM political party member Edward Lowassa in the election, held on 25 October 2015, Magufuli was declared the winner by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 29 October; he received 58% of the vote. His running mate, Samia Suluhu, was also declared Vice President. He was sworn in on 5 November 2015.
Magufuli was elected on a programme to “regain economic sovereignty in the face of international financial institutions”, according to the academic and political scientist Rwekaza Mukandala.
2020 presidential election
In July 2020 Magufuli was nominated as the CCM’s presidential candidate in elections scheduled for October 2020. His nomination was not opposed after the expulsion from the party earlier in the year of Bernard Membe, a former foreign minister who had planned to challenge the nomination.
He received the highest votes and was therefore re-elected to extend his presidency until 2025 for a second term.
According to Al Jazeera, “The election was marred by allegations of arrests of candidates and protesters, restrictions on agents of political parties to access polling stations, multiple voting, pre-ticking of ballots, and widespread blocking of social media.” A local elections watchdog group noted a heavy deployment of military and police whose conduct created a “climate of fear”.
Magufuli has been married to Janeth Magufuli, a primary school teacher, and they have three children.
A Kenyan newspaper reported on 10 March 2021 that “an African leader” was being treated for COVID-19 at a hospital in Nairobi, leading to speculation that it could be President Magufuli, who had not been seen in public since February.
Magufuli’s vice president Samia Suluhu announced his death on 17 March 2021 and attributed it to heart-related problems.
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