By Mourice Seretta
East Africa was thrown into mourning after Wedensday night’s announcement that Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli was dead.
In a televised address, Tanzania vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan said that Magufuli had died of heart complications.
Hassan said that Magufuli was hospitalised on March 6 at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute and died at Mzena State Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
She also announced that the country would get into a 14-day period of mourning as arrangements for the burial are made.
During this period, all flags in Tanzania will fly at half-mast, Hassan announced.
This comes after weeks of speculation on his whereabouts with the suspicion that he had been hospitalised for Covid-19.
Magufuli who served as the fifth President of Tanzania from 2015 until his death in 2021, also served as Minister of Works, Transport and Communications from 2000 to 2005 and 2010 to 2015 and was chairman of the Southern African Development Community from 2019 to 2020.
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 2005, 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 Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the country’s dominant party, Magufuli won the October 2015 presidential election and was sworn in on 5 November 2015; he was subsequently re-elected in 2020.
He ran on a platform of reducing government corruption and spending while also investing in Tanzania’s industries, but was accused of having increasing autocratic tendencies seen in restrictions on freedom of speech and a crackdown on members of the political opposition.
Magufuli’s government has been accused of repressing opposition to his leadership, including laws restricting opposition rallies, the suspension of the Swahili-language Mawio newspaper in 2016 for publishing “false and inflammatory” reporting regarding the nullification of election results in Zanzibar, threatening to shut down radio and television stations that do not pay licence fees, and a 2018 bill requiring blogs and other forms of online content providers to hold government licenses with content restrictions.
A devout Roman Catholic, he had been publicly criticized by the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) for taking measures that suppress constitutional freedoms and, in the view of the bishops, represent a threat to national unity.
People in Tanzania have been arrested for cyberbullying the President.
Magufuli spoke against the possibility of closing churches during the COVID-19 pandemic in Tanzania, stating: “That’s where there is true healing. Corona is the devil and it cannot survive in the body of Jesus,” reported the Economist in March 2020.
By May 2020, Magufuli and Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Paul Makonda announced that the disease had been defeated by national prayer, and called for a public celebration.
“The corona disease has been eliminated thanks to God”, Magufuli told the church congregation in Dodoma, the country’s capital. The World Health Organization (WHO) has queried the government’s approach to COVID-19.
Magufuli instructed security forces to blindly test coronavirus PCR test kits for quality on goats, papaya, sheep, and motor oil. All of them, he said, had been found to be positive for COVID-19.
By June 2020, the government had not published data on the coronavirus since late April. Magufuli had dismissed the head of the national laboratory, and the distribution of non-governmental information on the spread of the virus had become a crime. He disputed the effectiveness of face masks and testing.
Magufuli claimed in a January 2021 speech: “Vaccinations are dangerous. If white people were able to come up with vaccinations, a vaccination for AIDS would have been found.” Instead, Magufuli urged steam remedies and herbal medicine.
Several leaders from across the region sent their condolences to the family and people of Tanzania for the loss of their leader.
Kenyan leaders send condolences
Among notable figures from Kenya who sent their condolences to the family and people of Tanzania include ODM Leader Raila Odinga who described Magufuli as not on ly a family freind but also one who had been close to him during difficult times.
“President Magufuli and his family have been close friends for a long period of time. He has been by my side at my most difficult and painful moments. Over the years, we have worked together especially in the areas of connecting Eastern Africa by way of infrastructure. On behalf of my family and the Orange Democratic Movement, I send our deepest condolences to the President Magufuli’s family and the people of the United Republic of Tanzania at this profoundly difficult and sad time,” Raila said.
To First Lady Mama Janeth Magufuli, Raila said their thoughts and prayers were with her as a family.
He thanked her for the occasions she welcomed Odinga’s family at her home and that the Odinga family will stand with her at the hour of grief and sorrow in her family.
Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka also sent his condolences to the family, friends and to the entire United Republic of Tanzania following the passing-on of President Magufuli.
“My prayers are with all of you during this difficult times. May he Rest In Peace.” Kalonzo offered
The other notable figure was Baringo Senator Gideon Moi who termed Magufuli as a towering East African leader.
“Magufuli was a towering East African leader with a solid transformational agenda for Tanzania as evidenced during his tenure in public service. His track record was hallmarked by dedication, conviction, and the urge for service delivery to the public.As the president, H.E Magufuli embarked on a comprehensive reform agenda to rid Tanzania of corruption and complacency, and bequeath it a visionary and servant leadership.” Senator Moi said.
He added that in his capacity as a Minister for Works, he oversaw an intensive road network expansion program to open up Tanzania, encourage trade and spur economic growth.
“I stand in solidarity with the people of Tanzania during this trying moment. May their constitution guide them through a smooth transition as they celebrate his legacy anchored on the war against corruption & strengthening of the economy,” Mudavadi said.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula who is also the Ford Kenya Party Leader also mourned the death of Magufuli.
“He was a distinguished statesman and his death is a loss to the integration of the East African Community. My condolences to his family and the people of Tanzania.” Weatngula said of Magufuli.
Several other leaders also sent their condolences with Kenyans in their numbers taking to various social media platforms to mourn Magufuli.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.