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Absence of Tanzania’s President from Public Raises Questions Over His Health Situation

President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania

The reported absence of Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli from the public eye has raised questions about his health situation, speculation being rife that he was hospitalized earlier in the week in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi for COVID-19-related complications.

Tanzania’s opposition leader, Tundu Lissu, has been widely quoted as expressing concerns about the whereabouts and health situation of President Magufuli, adding that his “sources” had confirmed to him that the 61-year-old Head of State was being treated at a Kenyan hospital for coronavirus.

In his Tuesday, March 9 tweet, Mr. Lissu posted, “The President’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern. We’re informed when Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re told when Mkapa went for hip replacement. We’re not kept in the dark when Mwalimu fought leukemia. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?”

In a Wednesday, March 10 BBC report, Mr. Lissu is quoted as saying that President Magufuli had “suffered a cardiac arrest and is in a critical condition” and that he had been flown to Nairobi on the night of Monday, March 8. 

In the news report, Mr. Lissu faults President Magufuli for being reckless amid COVID-19 pandemic. 

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“He has never worn a mask, he has been going to mass public gatherings without taking any precautions that people are taking all around the world,” the 53-year-old opposition leader has been quoted as saying in reference to President Magufuli, and adds, “This is someone who has repeatedly and publicly trashed established medicine, he's relied on prayers and herbal concoctions of unproven value.”

Tanzania’s Government has, however, not issued any official statement on the whereabouts or health situation of the President who, according to reports, was last seen at a State House event in Dar es Salaam on February 27. 

Instead, the country’s Minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Innocent Bashungwa, has cautioned the media and citizens against “using rumors as official information.” 

President Magufuli has been criticized for denying the threats of COVID-19 in his country. Last June, the President who is a practicing Catholic declared the East African nation free of coronavirus, crediting this status to the power of prayer. 

His government has not published any reported cases of COVID-19 since May 2020.

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Last month, the US Embassy in the country reported a surge in COVID-19 cases since January 2021

President Magufuli came short of admitting that the country was facing a COVID-19 challenge in February when he said that his government had not prohibited the wearing of masks.

“The government has not forbidden mask-wearing. But we have to be careful about which masks to wear. We will perish. Don’t think we’re loved so much. Economic war is bad,” President Magufuli was quoted as saying, before he advised citizens of the East African nation to use locally produced masks.

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO),  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called on Tanzania’s leadership to take “robust measures” to combat COVID-19 saying a number of Tanzanians travelling to other nations tested positive for the virus. 

Last week, the Secretary General of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), Fr. Charles Kitima called on the people of God in the country to take coronavirus precautions seriously after 25 Priests and 60 Nuns succumbed to COVID-19-related symptoms. 

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“Coronavirus exists. We ask you to take precautions. We need to increase our efforts to protect ourselves,” Fr. Kitima told journalists on February 2. 

He added, “We have a responsibility to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions by taking the necessary precautions.”

Toward the end of January, Catholic Bishops in the East African nation called for caution amid a new wave of COVID-19 reported in several countries saying Tanzania “is not an island.”

“Our country is not an island,” members of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) said in their January 26 statement, adding, “We must defend ourselves, take precautions, and cry out to God with all our might so that this scourge will not overtake us.”

“Let us love ourselves, take care of ourselves, and cooperate with God in protecting and keeping us safe,” the Catholic Bishops added.