After two weeks of public anxiety, Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced the death of President John Pombe Magufuli on March 17.
In a televised address to the nation, the visibly shaken VP said the president had died about 6.30pm from a heart condition, chronic atrial fibrillation.
She said Magufuli, 61, was first briefly admitted to the Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute in Dar es Salaam on March 6, but discharged the following day.
He was taken ill again on March 14 and was rushed to the Mzena Hospital, also in Dar es Salaam. That is where he passed away three days later on March 17.
“The president has had the heart condition for the past 10 years,” she said in her three-minute address.
Speculation had been rife in regional and international media quoting sources that said they had credible information that the president was ill and being treated at a Nairobi hospital. The government was mum, neither confirming nor denying the news.
On Friday, March 12, Tanzania media quoted Prime Minister Majaliwa speaking in Njombe region saying that the president was well but busy at work, and there was nothing to worry about.
The following Monday, March 15, the VP herself, on a visit in Tanga, said there was nothing to worry about and that falling ill was normal.
First to die in office
Magufuli, the fifth president of Tanzania, is the first to die in office. Former presidents Julius Nyerere and Benjamin Mkapa died long after they had completed their tenures.
Magufuli’s death came just over four months after he was sworn in for a second five-year term on November 5 last year and 18 days after he was last seen in public on February 27 during the swearing-in of Dr Bashiru Ally as the new Chief Secretary at State House in Dar es Salaam. He did not make any remarks during that ceremony.
On February 25, he had conducted an official tour of various development projects in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam where he commissioned the new Kijazi Interchange at the junction of Morogoro Road, the Nelson Mandela Expressway, and Sam Nujoma Road in the Ubungo area.
On the same day he officially launched the new Magufuli Bus Terminal at Mbezi Luis, and later in the evening dissolved the Dar es Salaam City Council.
Speculation about his health and whereabouts arose after he missed two consecutive Sunday church services.
Magufuli, according to the VP’s statement, died of chronic atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase one’s risk of a stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
Atrial fibrillation is episodic but could also be permanent and may require treatment. Although usually non-life threatening, it is a serious medical condition that could require emergency treatment.