The Unusual Death of the President of Tanzania Magufuli
The Unusual Death of the President of Tanzania Magufuli

The Unusual Death of the President of Tanzania Magufuli

President Magufuli, whose death was confirmed on March 17 left a legacy of repression and serious human rights violations Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

His death offers new leaders in Tanzania an opportunity to take concrete steps to reverse the country’s downward human rights trajectory and ensure accountability for past abuses.

“President Magufuli oversaw abused laws and policies in Tanzania that have severely undermined human rights over the past six years,” said Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The new government now has a chance to start a new start by ending problematic practices in the past.”

President Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27, and the media reported that he was seriously ill due to complications that could aggravate an existing heart condition related to Covid-19. However, government officials insisted that he was fine and threatened to arrest journalists reporting on his health. In March, police in Iringa and Dar es Salaam arrested at least four people for “distributing fabricated information” about the president’s health.

On March 17, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in a public speech that Magufuli died of a heart attack in a hospital in Dar es Salaam. The vice president is expected to lead as president by 2025, when Magufuli expires.

Magufuli was elected president of Tanzania for the first time in 2015. In October 2020, he won a second term in the presidential election overshadowed by serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and the arrests of several opposition party leaders and supporters. In the weeks before the elections, authorities suspended television and radio stations, censored mobile phone communications, arrested activists and journalists, and blocked social media.

On the eve of the elections, police fired real ammunition at the crowd on Zanzibar’s semi-autonomous island archipelago, killing at least three people. Authorities continued to threaten and pursue opposition leaders and supporters even after Magufuli was declared the winner of the October elections.

Since Magufuli took office, the authorities have increasingly squeezed the media and civil society groups by enacting and enforcing restrictive laws and threatening to withdraw records from organizations critical of the government. The government also imposed restrictions on political opposition and gave the registrar of political parties a wide margin of appreciation, including withdrawing the parties’ registrations.

Magufuli banned pregnant girls and young mothers from school and family planning in 2017. This was followed by pressure on individuals and organizations that criticized these policies. Authorities censored and suspended newspapers and radio stations for publishing or publishing material criticizing Magufuli’s presidency. The government was also arbitrarily arrested – and in some cases abusive prosecutions – journalists, activists, and opposition politicians who criticized the government.

Magufuli declared Tanzania exempt from Covid-19 in June 2020. Then, the authorities imposed new restrictions on media outlets due to their news about Covid-19. They fined and suspended the licenses of the media companies and called out media professionals for news about the pandemic.

“With Magufuli’s death, the urgent need for justice is clearer than ever for many victims of abuse,” said Namwaya. “The new leadership should not commit another injustice to the Tanzanians by allowing these violations to go unpunished.”