Dodoma [Tanzania], March 18 (ANI): Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli died at the age of 61, announced the government on Wednesday, amid speculation about his possible infection with COVID-19.
The late 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 was being treated abroad, according to CNN.
Magufuli was elected a member of parliament in 1995 and gained popularity in 2010 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', reported DW.
He previously ran as President in 2015 and was re-elected in a vote in 2020, which was declared fraudulent by opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu.
"As you are aware, elections have been a source of conflict in many countries, but we Tanzanians have safely passed this test. This is proof to the world that Tanzanians are peace-loving, and we have matured in our democracy," he said.
Magufuli's lean government and cost-cutting measures greatly earned him respect among Tanzanian citizens, most notably when he suspended the country's independence celebrations in 2015 and urged citizens to clean up their communities to fight a cholera outbreak.
"Magufuli came in on the platform of fighting corruption and empowering the masses... It is the people who have been benefitting from corruption and all these other funny things who are not very happy with him," Martin Adati, a Kenyan political analyst, told DW.
However, he did not enjoy such popularity abroad as human rights groups accused him of trampling on basic rights such as freedom of press and expression. In 2020, his government introduced a law that made it a punishable offense for local media to publish international content without authorisation.
Magufuli had also downplayed the severity of the virus, making fun of the country's coronavirus testing facilities at one point by saying that he had secretly sent samples of papaya and goat and that they came out positive, according to DW.
Tanzania soon stopped sharing updates on COVID-19 infections and deaths after the ex-President claimed that people were getting false-positive results. According to the last shared coronavirus figures in May 2020, 509 people were confirmed to have contracted the virus and 29 had died.
Magufuli had also declared that the country would remain open for business.
"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," the late president once told a crowd.
However, after Zanzibar's first Vice President Seif Sharif Hamad succumbed to the virus in February, Magufuli and other Tanzanians began to acknowledge the severe risk of contracting the virus, reported DW.
Tanzania's Health Ministry later issued instructions urging citizens to observe COVID prevention protocols. (ANI)