President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent COVID-19 sceptic whose populist rule often cast his East African country in a harsh international spotlight, has died aged 61.
Mr Magufuli’s death was announced on Wednesday by Vice-President Samia Suluhu, who said the President died of heart failure.
Mr Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February. But top government officials had denied he was in ill health, even as rumours swirled online that he was sick and possibly incapacitated from illness.
Mr Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent deniers of COVID-19. He had said in 2020 that Tanzania had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer.
Tanzania has not reported its COVID-19 tallies of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020.
But the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems reportedly grew. Earlier in March, the US embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania since January.
Days later the presidency announced the death of John Kijazi, Mr Magufuli’s chief secretary. Soon after the death was announced of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier reported that he had COVID-19.
Critics charged that Mr Magufuli’s dismissal of the threat from COVID-19, as well as his refusal to lock down the country as others in the region had done, might have contributed to many unknown deaths.