Tanzanian Government Announces Death of President after Weeks of Unexplained Absence

Late President John Pombe Magufuli who died Wednesday, March 17 from heart illness at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam

Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli whose absence from the public eye had raised questions and speculations is dead, the government announced Wednesday, March 17.  

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that today, on the 17th of March, 2021 at 6 p.m., we lost our brave leader, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli,” the Vice President of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on State Television.

She added “We have lost our courageous leader who died from heart illness at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was getting treatment.” 

The Vice President further declared 14 days of national mourning in honor of the 61-year-old late Head of state, adding that flags in the East African nation would fly at half mast.

The late Magufuli had last been seen at a State House event in Dar es Salaam on February 27, sparking widespread questions and speculations about his health situation and whereabouts, with Tanzania’s opposition leader, Tundu Lissu, tweeting that the President had contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized in neighboring Kenya.


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?”

The late President Magufuli, a Catholic, had been criticized for denying and trivializing the threats of COVID-19 in his country. Last June, he declared the East African nation free of coronavirus, crediting this status to the power of prayer. 

Earlier this month, 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 illnesses.

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

“Our country is not an island,” members of 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.”

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On February 10, the US Embassy in the country reported a surge of COVID-19 cases since January 2021

On February 17, Zanzibar’s first Vice President, Seif Hamad died while undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at the Muhimbili Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam. 

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

Nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer’ for his aggressive leadership style, Magufuli worked as a teacher and industrial chemist before entering politics. He held several Cabinet positions before the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party chose him as its candidate to succeed former President Jakaya Kikwete in 2015.

In 2020, he was re-elected for another term in a vote that the opposition presidential candidate, Mr. Lissu, decried as fraudulent.


Following news of Magufuli’s demise, opposition leader Zitto Kabwe offered condolences to the Tanzanian government.

In a message addressed to Tanzania’s Vice President, Mr. Kabwe said, “The nation will remember him for his contribution to the development of our country.” 

The East African nation is expected to have Vice President, Suluhu, 61, sworn in as President, the country getting its first female Head of State.

The Constitution of Tanzania stipulates, "Where the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death, then the Vice-President shall be sworn in and become the President for the unexpired period of the term of five years."

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.