Tanzanian President John Magufuli dies at 61 as East African nation reels

2021-03-18 16:54:32
Tanzanian President John Magufuli dies at 61 as East African nation reels

Some Tanzanians wept on Thursday following the death of President John Magufuli, seeing him as a defender of the poor and fighting corruption in the East African nation

The 61-year-old's sudden death came after weeks of uncertainty and rumours over his health as he disappeared from public view. He remained genuinely popular among many for his seemingly frank talk against corruption.

"I did not sleep since learning of his death last night. It's difficult to replace Magufuli who favoured poor people like me," said Bernard Mathias, who stood at a newspaper stall in Dar es Salaam.

Magufuli was born on the shores of Lake Victoria, where he grew up in a grass-thatched home, herding cattle and selling milk and fish to support his family. "I know what it means to be poor," he often said.

His humble background and no-nonsense, anti-corruption attitude won him the hearts of many Tanzanians, even as his slide into autocracy and stifling of democracy and free speech alarmed rights groups.

"I feel very sad and I am suffering because we had our leader, our president whom we loved and he loved us, the poor," said street vendor Innocent Tionoke.

Another hawker, Hassan Sayid, described him as "the president of the less privileged".

As flags flew at half-mast and a 14-day period of mourning began, life continued much as usual in the country's financial capital.

On the economic front, he embarked on ambitious infrastructure projects in the hope of supercharging East Africa's third largest economy.

These included a railway, a hydropower project and the revival of state carrier Air Tanzania, spending billions of dollars in the process.

While Magufuli was loved by many for his expansion of free education, rural electrification and massive infrastructure projects, analysts said his hostile approach alarmed investors.

While authorities said he died of a heart condition, opposition leader Tundu Lissu said his sources had told him Magufuli had coronavirus.

Tanzania's Hassan to make history as first female president

Samia Suluhu Hassan, a soft-spoken, Muslim woman, was thrust from the obscure role of vice president to become Tanzania's first female leader after Magufuli's death.

Under the constitution Hassan, the country's 61-year-old vice president, will serve the remainder of Magufuli's second five-year term, which does not expire until 2025.

A former office clerk and development worker, Hassan began her political career in 2000 in her native Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago, before being elected to the national assembly on mainland Tanzania and assigned a senior ministry.

(Source: News agencies)

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