Tuesday, 30 November, 2021
HomeObituaryJohn Magufuli: Africa's most vehement COVID-19 sceptic dies

John Magufuli: Africa's most vehement COVID-19 sceptic dies

Tanzania's president John Magufuli, Africa's most vehement coronavirus sceptic, has died following an 18-day absence from public life that drew speculation about whether he died of COVID-19.

NBC News reports that Magufuli was a vocal COVID-19 sceptic who urged Tanzanians to shun mask-wearing and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organisation.

He had not been seen in public since 27 February, sparking rumours he had COVID-19 himself. On 12 March, officials denied he had fallen ill and on Monday Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who – SABC News reports – was sworn in as President on Friday, had urged Tanzanians not to listen to rumours from outside the country.

Nicknamed "The Bulldozer" because of his reputation for pushing through policies despite opposition, Magufuli drew international criticism for his unorthodox and increasingly authoritarian tactics.

NBC News reports that East African governments offered condolences, but some people from the region were critical of his stance on COVID-19 and his leadership style.

 

Rumours had swirled for weeks about his ill health but only a few days ago, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa had said he was reportedly “hard at work”. David E Kiwuwa, associate professor of international studies at the University of Nottingham writes in The Conversation that it was in this alternative-truth universe, which Magufuli himself encouraged, that citizens were arrested for speaking about the president’s health earlier in the week.

Kiwuwa writes that perhaps the most troubling development during Magufuli’s term was the misinformation he encouraged around the new coronavirus pandemic. Doubt and distrust have been a feature of the pandemic around the world. But in Tanzania, a developing and information-poor country, Magufuli’s COVID-19 scepticism led the country down an especially precarious path.

He encouraged doubt about the seriousness of the pandemic despite compelling evidence to the contrary. As casualty figures continued to rise and political leaders lost their lives to the virus, Magufuli’s government persisted in their scepticism.

He promoted dubious treatments for the virus, mocked mask efficacy, kept no relevant data and assured his countrymen that God would take care of them if the new coronavirus “ever became a problem”.

Kiwuwa writes that in the end, his approach to the pandemic created a health crisis. But this has been difficult to track due to a government clampdown on the release of data.

Kiwuwa writes that death is always tragic. Countries feel especially bereft when they lose political leaders in whom so much responsibility has been vested. John Pombe Magufuli leaves Tanzania in a shroud of uncertainty, particularly its burgeoning health crisis. His deputy, Samia Suhulu Hassan, now takes over as president for the remainder of his term, becoming Tanzania’s first woman president.

Kiwuwa writes the stability of the nation hinges on two things: how fast Tanzania can pivot from Magufuli’s approach to the pandemic to dealing realistically with the most demanding health crisis of the day. And whether Hassan can restore faith in the country’s democratic institutions.

 

Samia Suhulu Hassan, Magufuli’s successor will need to decide whether or not to reverse course on his controversial COVID-19 strategy, roll out vaccines and enforce the wearing of face masks to bring the disease under control, says a Daily Maverick report.

The former president drew widespread criticism for his approach — he declared the country free of the coronavirus, banned the publication of infection data and urged people to pray to safeguard their health.

But, DM reports, despite his denialism, public hospitals were swamped in January and February by patients displaying COVID-19 symptoms and funeral masses became daily occurrences, indicating that the nation clearly had a major public health crisis on its hands.

 

BBC News reports that he instilled such fear in the country that even during his more than two-week absence from public, his draconian policies continued unabated – police arrested those who speculated about the president's whereabouts or asked simply: Where is Magufuli? This state of affairs is something of a contradiction to his casting himself as a defender of the dignity of Tanzanians.

He also muzzled Tanzanian media, shutting down several newspapers, radio and TV stations as well as social media platforms simply for reporting what the government didn't like. He was also criticised for implementing policies such as banning girls who got pregnant from going to school.

But, BBC News reports, it was his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that was arguably his most damning failure. In his latter days he hectored critics who didn't buy his narrative about the country being "COVID-free" – a stance which was surprisingly in contrast to his sober, science-led approach during the early days of the pandemic.

Magufuli, a former chemistry teacher, would later push conspiracies about plots to harm Tanzanians while expressing doubt about the safety of masks and vaccines. At one point he sent papaya and goat meat samples to be tested for COVID-19 and used the results to justify his denial of the virus.

The true cost of this negligence and dereliction of duty can be counted in the number of lives lost as a result.

BBC News reports that Magufuli's death has been blamed on "heart problems" but many will still suspect that he succumbed to COVID-19.

Political opponents, neighbouring countries, mining firms, Western nations and anyone Magufuli viewed as undermining Tanzanian interests were also targets of his abrasive governing style. Critics said he was an autocrat with thin skin, a man obsessed with building a personality cult and who did not entertain any slights or jests whether from musicians, comedians or commentators on social media.

He instilled such fear in the country that even during his more than two-week absence from public, his draconian policies continued unabated – police arrested those who speculated about the president's whereabouts or asked simply: Where is Magufuli?

This state of affairs is something of a contradiction to his casting himself as a defender of the dignity of Tanzanians. Magufuli muzzled the Tanzanian media, shutting down several newspapers, radio and TV stations as well as social media platforms simply for reporting what the government didn't like.

But it was his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that was arguably his most damning failure. In his latter days he hectored critics who didn't buy his narrative about the country being "covid-free" – a stance which was surprisingly in contrast to his sober, science-led approach during the early days of the pandemic.

Magufuli, a former chemistry teacher, would later push conspiracies about plots to harm Tanzanians while expressing doubt about the safety of masks and vaccines. At one point he sent papaya and goat meat samples to be tested for Covid-19 and used the results to justify his denial of the virus.

The true cost of this negligence and dereliction of duty can be counted in the number of lives lost as a result, writes the BBC.

 

[link url="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/tanzania-s-covid-skeptic-leader-magufuli-dies-after-weeks-rumors-n1261378"]Full NBC News report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.sabcnews.com/sabcnews/tanzania-swears-in-samia-suluhu-hassan-as-first-female-president/"]Full SABC News report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://theconversation.com/tanzanias-magufuli-bold-and-efficient-with-a-dangerous-penchant-for-populism-157431"]Full report in The Conversation (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-03-18-tanzanias-next-leader-to-face-predecessors-covid-denialism/"]Full Daily Maverick report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-56412912"]Full BBC News report (Open access)[/link]

 

 

See also MedicalBrief archives:

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/arrests-for-posts-questioning-tanzania-presidents-health/"]Arrests for posts questioning Tanzania president’s health[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/prayer-has-rid-the-country-of-covid-19-says-tanzanias-president/"]Prayer has rid the country of COVID-19 says Tanzania’s president[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/tanzania-accused-by-opposition-of-hiding-true-covid-19-stats/"]Tanzania accused by opposition of hiding true COVID-19 stats[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/tanzania-under-who-and-human-rights-pressure-on-covid/"]Tanzania under WHO and human rights pressure on COVID[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/tanzanian-president-covid-vaccines-a-plot-to-steal-africas-wealth/"]Tanzanian president: COVID vaccines ‘a plot to steal Africa’s wealth’[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.medicalbrief.co.za/archives/tanzania-joins-the-list-of-african-countries-importing-madagascars-covid-19-cure/"]Tanzania joins the list of African countries importing Madagascar’s COVID-19 ‘cure’[/link]

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