President John Pombe Magufuli

President John Pombe Magufuli during a ceremony to mark his country’s 58th independence anniversary at CCM Kirumba stadium in Mwanza, on December 9, 2019.

| File | AFP

Last moments of the ‘Bulldozer’ John Pombe Magufuli

What you need to know:

  • Sources say President Magufuli died at Mzena Hospital shortly after arrival on Thursday last week.
  • This contradicts the Tanzanian government’s official account of Magufuli's death.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli was discharged from Nairobi Hospital while on life support and flown to Dar es Salaam late last week after doctors concluded that he could not be resuscitated, the Nation has established.

The President, who was flown to Kenya secretly on March 8 after suffering acute cardiac and respiratory illnesses, was under intubation when a decision was made to fly him back home.

Magufuli’s entry and exit from Kenya was a guarded affair, that only select National Intelligence Service (NIS) officials and members of the National Security Advisory Committee were aware of.

Sources say he died at Mzena Hospital shortly after arrival on Thursday last week, contradicting the Tanzanian government’s official account of the death occurring on Wednesday this week.

“Dear Tanzanians, it is sad to announce that today, March 17, 2021, around 6pm, we lost our brave leader, President John Magufuli, who died from a heart disease at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam,” Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on state broadcaster on Wednesday, shortly before midnight.

While the Tanzanian government had long denied that President Magufuli was sick, the Nation was the first media house to report the admission to Nairobi Hospital of “an African leader” on March 9. 

Magufuli’s condition

In her announcement, Ms Suluhu said President Magufuli was taken ill on March 6, appearing to corroborate the Nation’s account.

President Magufuli, had not been seen in public since February 27, raising speculation on his whereabouts and health.

Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa on Friday said he had spoken to the president and blamed reports of his sickness on “hateful” Tanzanians living abroad.

On Monday, the Vice-President urged Tanzanians not to listen to “rumours” from outside, but added that it is normal for anybody to get sick with flu, fever or other diseases.

On arrival at Nairobi Hospital, emergency medical personnel performed an intubation, a procedure in which tubes are forced down a person’s lungs to help in breathing.

Magufuli’s condition had suddenly deteriorated after spending less than 24 hours at Mzena Hospital, when a decision was reportedly made to fly him to Cape Town, South Africa, which has better facilities.

Secretly flown to Nairobi

With a flight time of three hours to Cape Town, doctors advised time was not on the side of the seriously sick leader, who by the time, could not talk. 

Another country had to be selected fast.

Nairobi Hospital was deemed the nearest option with better facilities and personnel, but the transfer had to be done discreetly in order not to create tension in Tanzania.

These decisions were made at the very highest levels of government between the two States, so discretely that even Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was not aware of the arrangements.

President John Pombe Magufuli

Tanzanian President John Magufuli waves as he attends a ceremony marking the country's 58th independence anniversary at CCM Kirumba stadium in Mwanza on December 9, 2019.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Magufuli’s air ambulance and an accompanying entourage landed at Wilson Airport on Sunday night, when the runway had already been closed to other planes.

People aware of the matter say landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was deemed as being too indiscreet, as the facility operates round the clock. Wilson Airport in Lang’ata shuts its runway to commercial and private planes at 8pm.

During the roughly one-and-a-half hour trip from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, President Magufuli used a medical air evacuation plane belonging to a regional company with headquarters in Nairobi.

Chemistry teacher 

On the second plane was President Magufuli’s personal detail, including his aides and bodyguards.

Once in Kenya’s capital, the President was driven to Nairobi Hospital where he was admitted under an alias at the North Wing’s presidential suite, instead of the specially constructed Covid-19 wing facility across the road.

Exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu, Magufuli’s main rival in the October 2020 General Election when the President won a second five-year term, has consistently stated on his Twitter handle and in interviews with the Nation that the President was flown to Kenya to receive treatment for coronavirus and was then flown out in a coma.

“Magufuli was taken out of Nairobi Hospital while comatose and on life support,” Mr Lissu said yesterday in a response to the Nation’s queries

Initially a chemistry teacher and later industrial chemist, President Magufuli’s political career saw him turn into a science sceptic. 

Prayers for Covid

He did not lock down his country or give face-mask wearing guidelines when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Tanzania. The government also allowed schools, sports events and political rallies to continue. 

By May last year, President Magufuli had declared victory over the viral disease “through prayers”.

He raised doubts on the gadgets used to determine coronavirus cases, claiming some returned positive readings from papaya and goat samples. 

When vaccines arrived, he said Tanzania would not tap into the Covax facility or engage other producers, until local scientists proved them effective.

But after 10 of his senior government officials mysteriously died between January and February, some complaining of breathing difficulties; President Magufuli appeared to loosen the stance.

Some of his government ministers appeared at public functions wearing face masks, even though it was not mandatory for the public.