NAIROBI - Tanzanians are in mourning following the sudden death of President John Magufuli, whose weeks-long absence from the public eye sparked rumors he was seriously ill, possibly from the coronavirus. Analysts and activists have mixed views on Magufuli, known as the "bulldozer" for pushing through big projects and his intolerance of critics.
Tanzania has begun 21 days of mourning after the death of its fifth president, John Magufuli.
The 61-year-old died of heart disease, according to Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who announced his passing Wednesday.
Neighboring Kenya is marking his death by flying flags at half-staff and observing a seven-day national mourning period. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who chairs the East African Community, of which Tanzania is a member, praised the late leader for the work he did for that country.
“Africa and the world has lost a lustrous leader whose vision, passion and immense leadership propelled the nation of Tanzania forward and also steered the East African Community to closer integration. On the continental stage, the late President Magufuli was a champion of pan-Africanism and the passing on President Magufuli — I have lost a friend, a colleague and a visionary ally.”
Officials in countries including Uganda and Rwanda also sent condolences.
Magufuli was last seen on February 27. His absence from public view raised questions about his health status from opposition groups.
Magufuli came to power in 2015 on a platform of fighting corruption. He would appear in government offices unannounced to catch employees not serving the public.
A mixed legacy
Philbert Komu, a political analyst and a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, says the president did good things for the country.
“Infrastructure-wise he was doing really well but also he is living behind the legacy of at least a government that is feared to the extent that at least people reduced the open corruption," he said. "It was not easy to see people stealing from the government, the grand corruption as it was before in Tanzania, but also you can see those people who used to take small corruption on the streets — like the police and the traffic police are still doing it to the minor extent, but at least with a great fear.”
Magufuli won his second term in office last October after an election marred by opposition group intimidation.
Some did not like his style of governance and how he cracked down on dissent. Others fled the country, like Tundu Lissu, his main challenger in the last election.
Fatma Karume, a former head of the Tanganyika Law Society, said Magufuli did not follow the constitution during his time in office.
"I can certainly tell you what I remember about him, what my memory will be of him; he is the man who took a reckon bow to the constitution, to the rule of law, to freedom of speech and we were left with a country whose infrastructure, whose system were just wrecked,” she said.
Hope for change
With new leadership to run the country until 2025, Karume says the government cannot continue to ignore its people and other countries.
“I hope that the president-to-be, who is [Vice President] Samia Suluhu, would take this very seriously and decide to bring us together as a nation. And that includes having discussions with the opposition, civil society, having serious and open discussions with the business community, with the international community, including donor countries and donor agencies and to see how we can take Tanzania from the ashes we are now seeing and revive it to a country of hope,” said Karume.
Magufuli came to politics as a lawmaker in 1995, representing the Chato district in western Tanzania.
Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, from Zanzibar Island, will lead the country for the four-and-a-half-year remainder of Magufuli’s term, becoming the first female president in the East African nation.