Tanzania President John Magufuli Dead at 61; Samia Suluhu Hassan Becomes Country’s First Female President

Chimdi Chukwukere
Staff Writer

Tanzania’s former Vice President was sworn in as the East African country’s first female President after the death of John Magufuli, reports Al Jazeera. This comes days after the then-former Vice President announced on state television that President John Magufuli, aged 61, died of heart failure at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam.

“President John Magufuli died of a heart ailment that he has battled for over 10 years,” Samia Suluhu Hassan said on March 17, according to CNN.

Deutsche Welle reports that Magufuli was buried on March 27 in his ancestral home of Chato, 10 days after his death. According to Africa News, the former president’s body was moved through different towns in Tanzania to allow for public mourning before he was finally moved to Chato on Friday for a private funeral service attended by close family, relatives and friends.

Opposition politicians alleged that Magufuli was sick from COVID-19, reports the Associated Press. Notably, Magufuli was one of the most prominent African leaders who denied the existence of COVID-19 in his country. He said last year that Tanzania was free from the disease following three days of national prayer.

Despite opposition and international backlash over his handling of pandemic response in Tanzania, Magufuli is said to be greatly loved by Tanzanians, continues the Associated Press. Many referred to him as “the bulldozer” for his stern anti-corruption stance and policies, as well as his ability to complete infrastructural projects despite oppositions.

Tanzanians continued to express deep sorrow for the death of the President, who was praised for cutting government inefficiencies, ending unnecessary official foreign trips by government officials, and using freed resources for infrastructural development. As reported by NPR in 2015, inspired by Magufuli’s austerity policies, a trend #WhatWouldMagufuliDo emerged on Twitter, with Africans demanding more accountability from their governments as Magufuli made big changes to the country’s finances. He is said to have slashed government budgets for everything from Independence Day celebrations to international travel by public office holders.

African leaders and statesmen continue to send in their tributes to the country since Magufuli’s death was announced. President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesin, praised Magufuli in a series of Tweets as a “committed leader… one who led Tanzania to become a middle-income country and worked tirelessly for the development of Tanzania and had a drive and passion for Africa’s development.”

CNN adds that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta paid his respects to Magufuli in a televised address, announcing a seven-day national mourning period in Kenya.

“Africa and the world has lost an illustrious leader whose vision, passion and immense leadership propelled the nation of Tanzania forward… in the passing on of President Magufuli, I have lost a friend, a colleague and a visionary ally whom I worked closely, particularly on our commitment to forge lasting bonds between Kenya and Tanzania,” he said.

Ms. Samia Suluhu Hassan, 61, under the Tanzanian constitution, will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025, Al Jazeera reports.

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