So he’s dead. The Tanzanian government lied to its citizens for ten days. Many were arrested for “spreading rumors” that Magufuli was sick. Last night, the Vice President who the constitution designates as the next president said Magufuli “had been hospitalized at the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute since March 6.”
Reports I still believe that he was medivaced first to Nairobi, then to India, are irrelevant, now. What is relevant is that the critical authorities of the government of Tanzania believed they could claim a sick man was well, and all we want to know now is what will happen, next.
Magufuli was one of the world’s top covid deniers, even as many around him including close aids died of the disease. As the BBC summarized:
“When Covid-19 arrived in Tanzania, Mr Magufuli called on people to go to churches and mosques to pray. ‘Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly,’ he said.
He declared Tanzania ‘Covid-19 free’ last June, saying the virus had been eradicated by three days of national prayer.”
Later he would make it a crime to speak about covid, encourage citizens to turn into police friends and family who might be stealing into Kenya for treatment, and closed the border to Kenya air traffic when Kenya prevented Tanzania truckers who were testing positive from entering.
Now, he’s dead. Will we ever know where he died or what he really died of? Absolutely. Secrets don’t last that long in Africa.
Magufuli was ruthless with his power, and none would challenge him. Journalists who tried were either killed, jailed or disappeared. When he proclaimed God had ensured Tanzania was covid-free, none dared say otherwise, even when the leader himself succumbed.
Tundu Lissu, the country’s main opposition politician who fled to Belgium recently as a political refugee, told KTN News last night that it was “poetic justice” that Magufuli had probably died of covid.
He claimed Magufuli will “go down in history as the most violent, most tyrannical leader in Tanzania’s history.”
“I survived it,” Lissu said, “but many were not as lucky as I was.”
And how will the new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, treat Magufuli’s death? Will she continue the covid-denial? Not much is known about her. Few are speculating.
Mama Samia, as she’s affectionately known in Tanzania, is more educated and more worldly than Magufuli. She holds a post-graduate degree in economics from the University of Manchester and first emerged as a political star as the government’s prime statistician.
Speaking of the new president, Mama Samia, Lissu said to Kenyan TV, “I know her well enough to suggest that temperamentally she’s a completely different ball game from Magufuli.”
When Lissu himself was hospitalized after an assassination attempt Mama Samia visited him in the hospital stirring all sorts of divergent concerns both within and without government circles. No one knew quite what to make of it.
I’ve listened to many exiled politicians speak glowingly of a new batch of leaders which comes to power after the ones who caused the exile exit the stage. Sometimes it works out; usually it doesn’t.
But times are changing worldwide. Only a mystic would compare Trump’s exit with Magufuli’s. I’ve got my fog lights on searching for one Mama Samia.