After being hospitalized and unseen in public for weeks, Tanzanian President John Magufuli passed away on the 17th of March. This news comes just a month after First Vice President of the autonomous Zanzibar region of Tanzania, Seif Sharif Hamad, passed away on the 17th of February, weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. This has been noted worldwide not only for the loss of two such high-ranking officials within the country, but also due to Tanzania’s controversial response to the virus.
Seif Sharif Hamad (L) and John Magufuli (R) | Credit: Anadolu Agency
Magufuli was the 5th President of Tanzania, elected to the position in 2015. A former chemistry teacher, he was a member of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) (Eng: “Party of the Revolution”), a socialist party that is the most prominent political party in Tanzania. A controversial figure even without his recent COVID response, Magufuli received criticism for his stances on issues such as media censorship and population growth. Official sources have stated his cause of death to be heart failure, but recent rumors have circulated stating he was suffering from COVID-19. His death has been met with mixed responses worldwide. He was 61.
Hamad held the position of First Vice President of Zanzibar, a largely ceremonial role held by someone from an opposing political party to the President. He was a member of the ACT (Alliance for Change and Transparency), a generally left-wing party that is the third largest in the country. Prior to this, Hamad was a member of the CUF (Civic United Front). He ran for president of Zanzibar six times, five of which as a member of the CUF and most recently with the ACT. He did not win any of these elections. Hamad was critical of then-president John Magufuli, citing his infringements on civil rights and democracy as major shortcomings. Hamad’s death has widely been regarded as tragic, especially by his supporters within Zanzibar. President Magufuli declared a week of national mourning following his death.
The Tanzanian government, particularly President Magufuli, have received heavy international backlash in response to how the country has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Many health experts have regarded the country’s response as subpar, with Africa’s regional WHO doctor urging Tanzania to report data and implement the recommended restrictions to help stop the spread. Magufuli also received criticism for his refusal to accept/import any vaccines for the virus, routinely encouraging prayers and herbal remedies as a solution throughout the course of the pandemic. “It’s definitely discouraged me from returning to the country anytime soon,” states Chris Lynch, a prior vacationer to the country. “It’s the government’s job, especially in poorer nations, to watch out and make the right decision for its people,” Chris noted shortly after, recalling the level of poverty he witnessed during his visit in 2016.
Magufuli’s spot has been filled with former Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, marking the first time a woman has served as president of Tanzania. With the initial shock of a world leader passing away in office slowly fading, the question is already beginning to be raised; will this shift in leadership change the way Tanzania approaches the virus, or will Hassan continue many of the methods Magufuli used?