NAKURU, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent populist and covid-19 skeptic in Africa, has died. He was 61 years old.
Magufuli’s death was announced on Wednesday by Vice President Samia Suluhu, who said the president died of heart failure.
Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February. Top government officials had denied that he was in ill health, even as rumors swirled online that he was sick and possibly incapacitated from illness. As recently as Friday, Tanzania’s prime minister said Magufuli was “fine and doing his responsibilities.”
Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent deniers of covid-19. He had said last year that Tanzania had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer. Tanzania, a nation on the East African coast between Kenya and Mozambique, has not reported its covid-19 tallies of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020.
But the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems reportedly grew. Earlier this month, the U.S. embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of covid-19 cases in Tanzania since January.
Days later, the presidency announced the death of John Kijazi, Magufuli’s chief secretary. In the days after that, officials announced the death of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier reported that he had covid-19.
Critics have charged that Magufuli’s dismissal of the threat from covid-19, as well as his refusal to lock down the country as others in the region had done, may have contributed to many unknown deaths.