The whereabouts of Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli (pictured) remained a subject of speculation yesterday amid questions about his health.
State House Tanzania yesterday remained mum on the matter, choosing not to comment on the whereabouts of the 61-year-old president who was last seen in public on or about February 27, this year during the swearing-in of a public officer in Dar es Salaam.
Unconfirmed reports that the Tanzanian president nicknamed the ‘Bulldozer’ could have been admitted to a hospital in Nairobi further added to the swirling rumuors about his health.
The Standard was unable to independently confirm these claims on the Tanzanian leader, who has made headlines for his stand on Covid-19.
A fierce critic of the lockdown taken by his counterparts in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to fight spread of Covid-19, Magufuli has maintained an open economy soon after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, a stance different from the one the world was taking at the time.
As State House Tanzania spokespersons remained tight-lipped, opposition figures in the country that just recently completed its presidential elections handing Magufuli a landslide win, have been critical of the secrecy surrounding the president’s health.
One of the main opposition voices from Tanzania, Tundu Lissu, as well as many others, suggested on their social media handles that Magufuli – a vocal Covid sceptic – may be sick and had been flown to Nairobi.
“The president’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?,” Lissu posted in a tweet late on Tuesday as rumours flew on Tanzania’s social media.
“The president’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern. We were informed when Kikwete had prostate surgery. We were told when Mkapa went for hip replacement. We were not kept in the dark when Mwalimu fought leukemia. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know,” Lissu posted on his social media handles.
Magufuli’s absence from public life has brought back into public debate some of his claims and observations with regards to the ongoing pandemic.
During a live broadcast in April of 2020, Magufuli accused public health officials of exaggerating the global health crisis that the virus posed.
“Therefore, I ask the Health ministry to emphasise this; for example the issue of steam inhalation. Scientifically, that is very clear. That’s because steam comes from boiling water at temperatures above 100°C. And because the coronavirus is made up of fats, when exposed to such high temperatures above 100°C, it will just disintegrate. It is a scientific treatment.”
After this, Tanzania was on a self-imposed media blockade with reporting in and around the virus heavily regulated by authorities, with reporters alluding to deaths due to malaria, cholera or general pneumonia.
With this self-censorship came the stopping of the daily reporting of the disease’s prevalence. The last recorded data submitted to the World Health Organisation was in May last year.
On June 20, when surrounding countries were enforcing strict lockdowns and Covid control measures including the banning of religious gatherings, Magufuli said that Covid had been eliminated by God.
Praying and fasting
“I want to thank Tanzanians of all faiths. We have been praying and fasting for God to save us from the pandemic that has afflicted our country and the world. But God has answered us… I believe, and I’m certain that many Tanzanians believe that the corona disease has been eliminated by God,” he said, before adding:
“We only have four patients in Dar es Salaam but this will not stop rumours to the contrary…..We need to be careful because some of these donations to fight coronavirus could be used to transmit the virus… I want to urge you Tanzanians not to accept donations of masks; instead tell the donors to go and use them with their wives and children.”
Magufuli’s absence has been more pronounced, especially since he was just re-elected as Tanzania’s fifth president with an overwhelming majority in last year’s General Election, leaving Lissu, his fiercest of critics, a distant second.
However, the Tanzanian president is no stranger to being away from the limelight. His love for simpler days of a rural upbringing in a peasant farmer’s house have been known to drive him from time to time into the embrace of solitude, away from the policy briefs he receives and the hard stances he pushes to the electorate as head of state.
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