Tanzanian President John Magufuli dies at 61

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President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent COVID-19 skeptic in Africa whose populist regime has often thrown his East African country into the international spotlight, 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.

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FILE - In this file photo from Friday, October 23, 2015, President John Magufuli gestures during a campaign rally in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, file)
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FILE – In this file photo from Friday, October 23, 2015, President John Magufuli gestures during a campaign rally in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (AP Photo / Khalfan Said, file)

“Our beloved president passed away at 6 pm this evening,” Suluhu said on national television. “All flags will be half mast for 14 days. This is sad news. The president has suffered from this disease for 10 years.”

The vice president said Magufuli died in a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the Indian Ocean port which is the largest city in Tanzania.

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FILE - In this file photo from Sunday, October 25, 2015, ruling Tanzania's presidential candidate John Magufuli votes in his hometown of Chato in northern Tanzania.  (AP photo, file)

FILE – In this file photo from Sunday, October 25, 2015, ruling Tanzania’s presidential candidate John Magufuli votes in his hometown of Chato in northern Tanzania. (AP photo, file)

Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February and senior government officials had denied he was in poor health even as rumors circulated online that he was ill and possibly ill. ‘a sickness.

Magufuli was one of the biggest COVID-19 deniers in Africa. He said last year that Tanzania had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer. Tanzania has not reported its COVID-19 counts of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020.

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FILE - In this file photo from Saturday, July 11, 2020, President John Magufuli speaks at the national convention of his ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Dodoma, Tanzania.  (AP photo, file)

FILE – In this file photo from Saturday, July 11, 2020, President John Magufuli speaks at the national convention of his ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Dodoma, Tanzania. (AP photo, file)

But the death toll of people with respiratory problems is believed to have increased and earlier this month the United States Embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania since January. A few days later, the presidency announced the death of John Kijazi, Magufuli’s chief secretary. Shortly after, the death was announced of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had previously reported having COVID-19.

Critics have accused Magufuli’s rejection of the COVID-19 threat, as well as his refusal to lock down the country like others in the region have done, may have contributed to many unknown deaths.

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