Eccentric leader who single-handedly fought coronavirus narrative

Friday, March 19th, 2021 00:00 |
Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli, right, beat drums at a public function. Photo/COURTESY

Nyaboga Kiage

Though a scientist himself, he defied science, refused to listen to the world and decided to go it all alone to the Covid-19 battlefront, trusting that prayers and traditional herbs would buttress Tanzania against the contagion’s brutality.

That is how fallen Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli’s foes described him.

March 22, 2020 was the first time the ex-president who was nicknamed a “bulldozer” appeared in the public and criticised the existence of the deadly virus and one year later, Tanzania’s Government announced he had died of heart complications despite widespread rumours of Covid-19 infection. 

“Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ. It will burn instantly,” this was the first statement ever made by Magufuli who died aged 61, on matters Corona before he declared the East African country Covid-19 free. 

As he declared the country free of the scourge in May 2020, the country had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths. To this effect, he questioned coronavirus testing kits saying that they had returned positive results on a pawpaw fruit and a goat. 

Covid complications 

Magufuli who refused to lockdown his country as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was last seen in public on February 27, days later news broke out that an East African Head of State was at Nairobi Hospital being treated of Corona-related complications but Tanzania through Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said that he was doing well and very busy. 

The specualtion was followed by consistent posts on his official Facebook page where its handlers kept sharing development projects that were being initiated under his leadership.

Some of the projects include:   the Tanzanite bridge, a number of roads, a railway station in Dar es salaam and Standard Gauge Railway terminus in Morogoro. 

Just hours after his death was announced by Tanzania’s Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan who said that he died on Wednesday evening, leading Opposition leader Tundu Lissu who first broke the news that Magufuli was ill differed with the reports insisting that the country was lying about his death. 

In his statement, Lissu who is in exile in Belgium said that he has been expecting the matter to be made public as from March 7. 

“The President’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?” Lissu said. 

A teacher by profession, Magufuli was first elected to the Tanzanian Parliament in 1995 and became a Cabinet Minister in 2000.  

He was an active member of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) since 1975 and when it came to the 2015 presidential election- he was a surprise candidate since he was not a member of the party’s inner circle. 

It is during the time when he was serving as a Minister that he was named a “bulldozer” for driving programs to build roads as Minister for works. In addition, his anti-corruption stance for his distinct dislike for wasting money was also noted during this period. 

When he won the presidency, Magufuli- a devout Catholic who loved singing in the church choir and also playing traditional drums never stopped his fondness for massive projects and also fought against misuse of public funds. 

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