Adieu John Pombe Magufuli, and Reflections on Covid19

Saturday, March 20, 2021

In the past one year of the Covid19 pandemic, the East Africa Community (EAC) has lost two sitting Heads of State, Pierre Nkurunziza who died on June 20, 2020, and now John Pombe Joseph Magufuli both at relatively young age of 55 and 61 respectively under clouds of suspicion that Covid19 could have known them down. Officially Nkurunziza died of ‘cardiac arrest’ while Magufuli is said to have been suffering from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. Either way, as one of the prominent leaders who have been skeptical and rejected Covi19 existence, we mourn John Pombe Magufuli’s demise which many will see  as a sad story of foolish bravery, sadly from a scientist who taught chemistry and mathematics, and should have believed in medical sciences. Adieu Magufuli!

Strangely both Nzurunziza and Magufuli were widely reportedly in the media not have believed in the science and medicine of Covid19, rejected most of the public Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as protective measures against the pandemic. Magufuli was reported and often seen praying in ‘modern’ religions, and urging the use of unverified herbal concoctions as possible remedies for Covd19. Equally, Nkurunziza doubted that Covid19 really existed and believed in God and prayers as a solution including expelling the WHO from Burundi.

In Tanzania apart from Magufuli, former president Benjamin Mkapa, Zanzibar first VP  Saif Sharif Hamad, former Central Bank Governor Benno Ndulu, several ministers, three MPs, and other high profile figures have recently died under similar clouds of suspicion that Covid19 could be the trigger. Sadly, we have to say goodbye to President John Magufuli in ways that many will find very hard not to blame him for the apparent official dereliction of duty towards Covid19, not just for himself but as president, to many Tanzanians his policy could have put them into harm’s way needlessly.


It was said that at one point Magufuli sent papaya and goat meat samples to be tested for Covid-19 and used the results to justify his denial of the virus’s existence.  In June last year he publicly declared that Covid-19 had vanished in Tanzania. So foolish was the claim seen by many as idiocy. It said that at one point ’s reported At one point he sent papaya and goat meat samples to be tested for Covid-19 and used the results to justify his denial of the virus. The true cost of this negligence can be counted in the number of lives lost as a result.

The ‘’Bulldozer’’ nicknamed so for his brash leadership style, who took office as president in 2015, imposed drastic and often uncompromising measures to curb government spending like barring unnecessary foreign travel by government officials. He directed the use of cheaper vehicles and board rooms for transport and meetings respectively. In one instance he cut down a government delegation to the Commonwealth from 50 to 4 people, and dropped government sponsorship for the World Aids Day exhibition in favour of purchasing AIDS medication.

He also stopped a state inauguration dinner for the new parliamentary session and Independence Day because he considered them wasteful, and then reduced his own salary from US$15,000 to US$4,000 per month. He instead used the Independence Day for a cleanup campaign he personally participated in to help reduce the spread of cholera saying it was "so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera". The savings were to be invested in improving hospitals and sanitation in the country, he said.

To undercut opposition criticism of the decay inside CCM, on 10 December 2015, a month after taking office, Magufuli announced his first cabinet with only 19 ministers instead of 30 as a cost saving measure to the praise of civil society and foreign groups. These and many such postures enlisted accolades including the famous twitter hashtag #What Would Magufuli Do which trended for months on social media. Many liked Magufuli’s aggressive tackle against foreign companies that had fleeced Tanzanians especially in the mineral sector.

In 2017, Magufuli slapped Acacia Mining, a subsidiary of Barrick Gold of Canada with an incredible $190bn tax bill over royalties. As part of the settlement, Barrick eventually paid $300m after buying out Acacia, and new operating company, Twiga Minerals was formed with the Tanzanian government owning 16% of the joint venture, and future sharing on a 50-50 basis. This was the Magufuli.

But the sad story of foolish bravery returns to Uganda where like both in Burundi and Tanzania general elections were held last year for a new president and parliament without any guard to prevent the spread of Covid19. In Uganda local fickle groups and surprisingly the European Union claimed that the tough SOPs were meant to constrain free election campaigns by the opposition. In retrospect, President Yoweri Museveni and some of his tough Covid-19 measures should be seen as vindication. Adieu President Magufuli, and many will miss the ‘Magulification’ of Africa.