Tanzania's president, one of the world's most prominent Covid-deniers, has died

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Tanzania's president, one of the world's most prominent Covid-deniers, has died
Tanzanian President John Magufuli at an event in August 2020.ERICKY BONIPHACE/AFP via Getty Images
  • Tanzania announced the death of President John Magufuli, ending weeks of mystery about his health.
  • Magufuli declared Tanzania Covid-free last May and stopped releasing data about new infections.
  • Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan will become Tanzania's first female president since independence.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli-who has not been seen for three weeks and was widely rumored to be sick with Covid-19, a virus he has downplayed for months-has died, the country's vice president said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Magufuli emerged as one of the world's most prominent Covid-deniers last May, when he declared his country was free of the virus following three days of national prayer. He later scoffed at wearing masks, criticized regional neighbours for imposing lockdowns, and rejected coronavirus vaccines until his government could independently verify them.

He was last seen in public on Feb. 24. Following news reports that he might had contracted the coronavirus, and statements from the country's opposition leader making the same claim, #WhereIsMagufuli began trending on Twitter in the country.

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In a televised address on Wednesday, Tanzania's Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced that the 61-year old leader had died.

"Today, March 17th this year, at 6pm, we have lost our courageous leader, President John Magufuli,"she announced on state broadcaster TBC1.

Tanzania's president, one of the world's most prominent Covid-deniers, has died
Tanzania's Vice President Samia Hassan Suluhu and President John Magufuli taking a call together in July 2019.ERICKY BONIPHACE/AFP via Getty Images

Under Tanzania's constitution, Hassan, 61, will become the East African nation's president and finish the remainder of the presidential term until next elections are held in 2025.

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Hassan, a moderate politician from the semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, is set to become the country's first female president since it's independence from Britain in 1961.

Hassan said Magufuli, 61, died at a hospital in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam from "chronic atrial fibrillation, a condition that he has had for more than 10 years." She declared 14 days of national mourning where flags will fly at half mast.

Last week, after a leading Kenyan newspaper published a story hinting that Magufuli was being treated for Covid-19 in its capital, Nairobi, Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu echoed the claim to media outlets, but offered no proof.

Soon after, officials in Magufuli's government issued a flurry of statements insisted that Magufuli was alive and well, but offered no proof.

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Tanzania confirmed its first coronavirus case in March 2020, but a month later Magufuli - who has a PhD in chemistry - questioned the accuracy of the test results. Soon after, Magufuli ordered the country's Health Ministry to stop releasing updates.

During his five years in power, Magufuli has turned the once progressive East African nation of 60 million people into one of Africa's more repressive and secretive states, critics say.

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