Death of Tanzania's Magufuli draws sorrow but ire from some

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A man reads a copy of the Daily Nation morning newspaper reporting the death of neighboring Tanzania's President John Magufuli on a street in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, March 18, 2021. Magufuli, a prominent COVID-19 skeptic whose populist rule often cast his country in a harsh international spotlight, died Wednesday aged 61 of heart failure, it was announced by Vice President Samia Suluhu. Headline in Swahili reads "Goodbye Magufuli." (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

NAKURU – News of the death of Tanzania's President John Magufuli drew mixed reactions; sorrow from many but bitterness from a critic who said he suffered during the president's rule which he said shrank the country's democratic space.

Magufuli, one of Africa's most prominent COVID-19 skeptics, died of heart failure, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced Wednesday night on national television. Hassan is expected to be sworn in to succeed Magufuli and complete his second five-year term which he had just started after winning elections late last year. She will be Tanzania's first female head of state.

As tributes come in from other African heads of state, Tanzania's opposition leader has been outspoken in his criticism of Magufuli.

“It's poetic justice," opposition leader Tundu Lissu said Thursday of Magufuli's death, alleging that he succumbed to COVID-19.

“President Magufuli defied the world on the struggle against COVID-19. He defied the East African community, he defied all our neighbors. He defied science. He refused to take the basic precautions that people all over the world are being told to take in the fight against COVID-19,” said Lissu, on the Kenya Television Network.

“He did not wear a face mask. He actually denigrated anyone who wore a face mask. He did not believe in vaccines. He did not believe in science. He placed his faith in faith healers and herbal concoctions of dubious medical value.” said Lissu. "And what has happened? He went down with COVID-19. And now they are telling us he had heart disease. It is corona.”

Lissu, who spoke from exile in Belgium, recalled that in Sept. 2017 Magufuli said those who were opposed to his economic reforms deserved to die. Shortly after that Lissu was shot 16 times and he left the country for Belgium.

Lissu returned to Tanzania to challenge Magufuli in the Oct. 2020 elections. He lost to Magufuli in elections marred by violence and widespread allegations of vote-rigging. Government security forces blocked thousands of opposition monitors from observing the polls. Lissu returned to Belgium after criticizing the elections, saying that he was not safe.