Tanzanian President, John Pombe Magufuli, nicknamed ‘the Bulldozer’, has died at 61, the government announced on Wednesday.
In a televised address, Tanzania vice-president, Samia Suluhu Hassan revealed that Magufuli had died of heart complications, BBC reports.
Hassan said Magufuli was hospitalised on March 6 at Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute.
Following this, there were speculation that he had been infected with the coronavirus. At some point, there were rumours that he had died.
Once praised for his no-nonsense approach, he went on to become a controversial leader, especially over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As president he was also accused of cracking down on dissent and curtailing certain freedoms, but following his death reflections on his time in power will be dominated by his idiosyncratic handling of COVID-19.
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 neighbouring 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.
He once told a crowd;
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.
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.
Following the death of Zanzibar’s first Vice President, Seif Sharif Hamad 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.
Born on October 29, 1959, Magufuli earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Dar es Salaam in 1994 and 2009, respectively.
After a short stint of teaching at Sengerema Secondary School and later working as an industrial chemist, Magufuli went into politics under the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.
He was elected a member of parliament in 1995 and that same year appointed deputy minister of works, receiving the title of minister in 2000.
In 2010, he gained popularity after he was appointed Tanzania’s minister for works and transportation for the second time. His bullish leadership style and fight against graft in the road construction industry was endearing for Tanzanians, who later nicknamed him “the bulldozer.”
He ran as president in 2015 and won 58% of the vote, defeating Edward Lowassa of the Chadema opposition party. In 2020, he was re-elected in a vote — a win that opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu decried as fraudulent.
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