John Magufuli: Questions raised over missing Tanzania leader

FILE - The 61-year-old president, nicknamed "The Bulldozer", is serving his second term in office. [File photo. AFP]

Questions have been raised over the health of Tanzanian President John Magufuli who has not been seen in public for 11 days.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu has told the BBC that according to his sources the president is being treated in hospital for coronavirus in Kenya.

The BBC has not been able to verify this report independently.

Mr Magufuli has faced criticism for his handling of Covid-19, with his government refusing to buy vaccines.

The East African nation has not published its coronavirus cases since May.

Its 61-year-old president has called for prayers and herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the virus.

Earlier this month, at a funeral for a top presidential aide, Mr Magufuli said Tanzania had defeated Covid-19 last year and would win again this year.

The aide died hours after the vice-president of the country’s semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar, who was being treated for Covid-19.

‘Silence irresponsible’

Mr Lissu says he was told that President Magufuli had been flown to Kenya for treatment at Nairobi Hospital on Monday night.

According to the opposition leader, the president has suffered a cardiac arrest and is in a critical condition.

There has been no official response from the government, which has warned against publishing unverified information about the Tanzanian leader, who was last seen at an official event in Dar es Salaam on 27 February.

Nairobi Hospital also said it could not comment.

Mr Lissu told the BBC that the government’s silence was fuelling rumours and was irresponsible, and the president’s health should not be a private matter.

It would not be a surprise to Tanzanians that Mr Magufuli had contracted coronavirus as he had been reckless in the face of the virus, he said.

“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,” Mr Lissu told the BBC from exile in Belgium.

“This is someone who has repeatedly and publicly trashed established medicine, he’s relied on prayers and herbal concoctions of unproven value.”

The 53-year-old alleged that Tanzania’s Finance Minister Philip Mpango was also being treated at the same hospital in Kenya’s capital.

Analysis – By Leila Nathoo, BBC Africa Correspondent

It would be an explosive development if President Magufuli was confirmed to be suffering from Covid-19 – the disease he has conspicuously spent months denying the threat from.

Aside from the potential implications for Tanzania’s government if he is indeed seriously ill, for his critics, the diagnosis and treatment abroad would be proof of a failed strategy towards the disease.

In the absence of any official data, there is no way of knowing the true extent of coronavirus infections in Tanzania, but in recent weeks there has been increasing concern about a spike in cases.

If the president were to be among those recently infected, it would be a grim vindication for those who have been warning against ignoring the spread of the virus.

Mr Lissu, who came second in presidential elections for the opposition Chadema party in October with 13% of the vote, said he considered his rival’s reputation to be in tatters.

“He’s built a reputation as a patriot, that he doesn’t travel outside the country, that he’s a president for the poor – and he’s refused to do anything to ameliorate the situation in Tanzania by telling people we are fine.”

Last week, the Catholic Church in Tanzania urged people to take Covid-19 precautions more seriously, saying 60 nuns and 25 priests had died in the last two months after showing symptoms of coronavirus.

Mr Lissu first went into exile in 2017 after surviving an assassination attempt. He returned to take part in last year’s polls, the results of which he says were rigged.

He left the country again in November, saying he had received more death threats.

Source: BBC

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