Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli has died aged 61, the country’s vice-president has announced.
He died on Wednesday from heart complications at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and former capital, Samia Suluhu Hassan said in an address on state television.
Magufuli had not been seen in public for more than two weeks, and rumours had been circulating about his health.
Opposition politicians said last week that he had contracted Covid-19, but this has still not been confirmed.
Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent coronavirus sceptics, and called for prayers and herbal-infused steam therapy to counter the virus.
Hassan will be sworn in as the new president and should serve the remainder of Magufuli’s five-year team which he began last year.
Magufuli was last seen in public on Feb 27, but Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa insisted last week that the president was “healthy and working hard”.
He blamed the rumours of the president’s ill-health on “hateful” Tanzanians living abroad.
But opposition leader Tundu Lissu, in exile in Belgium, told the BBC that his sources had told him Magufuli was being treated in hospital for coronavirus in Kenya.
On Monday, police said they had arrested four people on suspicion of spreading rumours on social media that the president was ill.
“To spread rumours that he’s sick smacks of hate,” Majaliwa said at the time.
Magufuli declared Tanzania “Covid-19 free” last June. He mocked the efficacy of masks, expressed doubts about testing, and poked fun at neighbouring countries which imposed health measures to curb the virus.
Tanzania has not published details of its coronavirus cases since May, and the government has refused to purchase vaccines. Unofficial sources say many Tanzanians have died of Covid-19.
Magufuli cultivated an image of a rambunctious action man, a departure from his predecessors’ stately styles. His no-nonsense approach to rooting out high-level corruption earned him the nickname “The Bulldozer”.
His interventionist leadership won him fans beyond Tanzania, especially in the East African region where he inspired the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo Twitter hashtag that was shared by supporters of his straightforward style.
There will be vigorous debate about his legacy and whether his successor should stay the course or change direction.
Magufuli’s death has been attributed to a long-standing heart condition, but many will still suspect that he succumbed to Covid-19.