President of 'Covid-free' nation mysteriously disappears

Yahoo News Staff
·3-min read

A world leader and Covid-19 skeptic remains missing with authorities yet to update the public on his whereabouts or health.

Tanzania’s president John Magufuli has not been seen for more than 17 days, and despite a clamour of rumours of ill-health, the Tanzanian authorities have yet to provide clear answers as to his whereabouts.

The mere question is now leading to arrests, as the government seeks to contain the rumours.

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham, said “whenever this happens” it is the “regime” “trying to buy time.

“And it only really makes sense that the regime is trying to buy time if the president is very ill, incapacitated, or dead,” he said.

Tanzania's incumbent President and presidential candidate of ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) John Magufuli (C) waves as he arrives to give a speech during the official launch of the party's campaign for the October general election at the Jamhuri stadium in Dodoma, Tanzania.
Tanzania's President John Magufuli waves ahead of last year's election. Source: Getty Images

Mr Magufuli last appeared in public on February 27, and the fervent Catholic has missed three Sunday services, where he would often address the congregation.

Just days before, Finance Minister Philip Mpango appeared coughing and gasping at a press conference outside a hospital, to dispel rumours he had died of Covid-19.

Mr Magufuli's absence comes amid a string of high-profile deaths and illnesses attributed to "respiratory problems" or "pneumonia".

He had for months insisted the virus no longer existed in Tanzania, and had been fended off by prayer. He refused to wear a face-mask or take lockdown measures.

A worker checks the temperature of travellers at the border post with Kenya in Namanga, northern Tanzania.
People have their temperatures checked as they leave northern Tanzania for Kenya. Source: Getty Images

The country stopped releasing case data in April 2020.

But a week before he was last seen, Mr Magufuli conceded the virus was still circulating, after the vice-president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died of Covid-19.

Calls for update on president's health

Last Tuesday, main opposition leader Tundu Lissu, exiled in Belgium, and others began questioning Magufuli's absence, citing sources that he was gravely ill from Covid-19, exacerbated by underlying health conditions.

Mr Lissu claims that the president is in India receiving medical treatment for the virus and is in a serious condition.

Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, said “it is important for the government to inform the public about the president’s health to reduce ongoing fear”.

"The president's health is not supposed to be a secret," he said.

Choir members sing during the Sunday mass without wearing masks and social distancing at Ufunuo na Uzima Church in Dar es Salaam.
Choir members sing during the Sunday mass at Ufunuo na Uzima Church. Source: Getty Images

Mr Kabwe said Tanzania's constitution calls for the speaker of the national assembly to make information public on the president's health. He recalled that Tanzanians received regular updates on the health of two former presidents, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, when they were abroad for medical treatment.

"The public have not been informed about whether the president is performing his duties and whether the vice president has taken up the duties of the president," Mr Kabwe told Reuters.

Men leave the steam inhalation booth installed by Tanzanian herbalist Msafiri Mjema in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Men us a steam inhalation booth installed by Tanzanian herbalist Msafiri Mjema for coronavirus treatment. Source: Getty Images

Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi did not return calls and messages seeking comment.

India's immigration service records do not show anybody by the name of John Magufuli entering the country, and air ambulance flight records do not show a flight from East Africa since February 1, an Indian government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Mr Kabwe, the opposition leader, also called on the government to release people arrested for questioning the president's health.

Police have arrested four people in the country since last week for allegedly spreading false information about the sickness of political leaders, according to the police, who did not mention the president's name when referring to the arrests.

with Reuters and AFP

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