By Jean Damascene Hakuzimana

President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania died this Wednesday March 17 from heart complications, according to a statement from Vice President Samia Suluhu on Tanzanian state television. Magufuli, 61, had not been seen in public for days prior to his death, and concerns about his health were mounting.

Magufuli was famous for downplaying COVID-19, but rumors that he died fighting the virus are widespread. Amjambo Africa reported that President Magufuli refused supplies of the vaccine. Also Seif Sharif Hamad, Vice President of Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island, died on February 17 after weeks battling COVID-19. Reuters reports that Tanzania last published COVID-19 data in May, 2020 – at that time the country had 509 cases and 21 deaths from the virus.

Opposition leader Zitto Kabwe is blaming the government for causing many deaths by not taking the pandemic seriously, according to Reuters. Tanzania’s ally Oman has announced it will suspend flights from Tanzania after 18% of passengers from Tanzania recently tested positive for the virus.

Magufuli leaves behind a legacy of strengthening the economy of Tanzania and pushing it up to the status of a middle income country. He has been hailed for his political reforms, among them cutting spending on non-essential items like public employees’ trips abroad, extravagant national celebrations, and more. He cracked down on rampant corruption and dismissed many authorities who were found to be embezzling taxpayers’ money. In 2015, Bloomberg reported that he canceled spending for National Independence Day to fight cholera, and also take other measures to address health concerns.

Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who announced Magufuli’s death, told Tanzanians of the Tango region on March 15 that President Magufuli sent his greetings, saying the president urged them to keep working hard, and in harmony, according to Reuters. ‘Keep working hard’ was a common maxim of President Magufuli, whose previous position as Minister of Public Works earned him the nickname ‘bulldozer.’

Many presidents have struggled with the choice of whether or not to let economic progress collapse in order to take measures to fight COVID-19, and Magufuli took the choice of keeping the economy open. Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan will take over the leadership of Tanzania, in accordance with the constitution, and finish the remainder of the late Magufuli’s 5-year term, set to  end in 2025.  “With all the sorrows that the Tanzanian people are feeling, there is a great legacy here to share with many other African nations. There will be no blood bath during this transition of power,” notes this publication’s Africa news editor.