Tanzanian President John Magufuli dies

(CNN) — Tanzanian President John Magufuli has died, his government announced on its official Facebook page on Wednesday.

The 61-year-old president, who usually made weekly public appearances at Sunday church services, had not been seen since February 27, fueling speculation that he was ill and being treated abroad.

A Tanzanian opposition leader called on the government to inform the public about the president’s health amid growing speculation, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

“It is important for the government to inform the public about the president’s health to reduce the current fear,” Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, said in a statement. “The president’s health is not supposed to be a secret.”

Known as “The Bulldozer” for his tough stance against corruption and hard-line policies, Magufuli was victorious in October 2015 as the fifth president of Tanzania.

But enthusiasm for Magufuli’s intolerance of corruption was short-lived as a crackdown on democracy and critical voices began.

Magufuli oversaw the closures and suspensions of numerous media outlets, while his government undermined judicial and parliamentary independence, implemented a partial ban on public rallies, harassed parliamentarians, shut down online political space, and prosecuted critics under the defamation and sedition laws.

Early in the pandemic, Magufuli dismissed the seriousness of the coronavirus in Tanzania, urging its citizens to “pray to eliminate the coronavirus”, believing that “the satanic virus cannot live in the body of Jesus Christ” and blaming the rising number of cases positives to faulty test kits.

In June, he claimed his country had eradicated the coronavirus “by the grace of God,” questioned the safety of foreign Covid-19 vaccines, and made no plans to get vaccines to his country, instead pushing for the use of medicinal herbs and steam treatments.

Tanzania has not reported Covid-19 figures since April 2020, prompting the World Health Organization to ask the country to release coronavirus data and increase public health measures.

Last month, the US embassy in Dar es Salaam warned that cases of covid-19 had increased since January.

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