NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesday at a hospital in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.
His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.
Ms. Hassan did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-staff nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.
Mr. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure.
marked a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors who had promoted the East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy.
During his first term, Mr. Magufuli’s government banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and introduced laws that critics said repressed independent reporting. He also said that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school.
refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.
On voting day, at least 10 people were killed when violence broke out in the semiautonomous archipelago of Zanzibar after citizens said they had seen soldiers delivering marked ballots.
Mr. Magufuli won that election with 84 percent of the vote amid accusations of widespread fraud and irregularities. Tundu Lissu, the main opposition candidate running against him, was accused of trying to overthrow the government and had to leave the country. He remains in exile in Belgium.
Over the past year, Mr. Magufuli came under intense criticism at home and abroad for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He railed against masks and social distancing, promoted unproven remedies as cures and said that God had helped the country eliminate the virus.
Tanzania has not shared data on the coronavirus with the World Health Organization since April, and it has reported just 509 cases and 21 deaths, figures that have been widely viewed with skepticism.
As vaccine rollouts began worldwide, Mr. Magufuli discouraged the Health Ministry from securing doses for Tanzania.