Oppression of the opposition, attack on free speech and media censorship best describes President John Pombe Magufuli’s more than five-year rule that came to an end on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, according to critics.
Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer” because of his reputation for pushing through policies despite opposition, passed on at the Mzena Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Vice President Samia Suluhu confirmed on Wednesday night.
The 61-year-old, Samia said in a televised address, succumbed to a “heart condition”.
The revelation ended days of speculations on Magufuli’s whereabouts after missing in action for two weeks.
The opposition which bore brunt of Magufuli’s tyrannical rule had alleged that the President had been flown to Kenya for Covid-19 treatment.
Whereas VC Samia didn’t mention Covid-19 as the President’s cause of death, it’s suspected that he succumbed to complications related to the disease he spent months denying its existence.
As Tanzanians come to terms with Magufuli’s death, his style of leadership continues to attract criticism from a section of local and world leaders.
Since the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) leader assumed office on November 15, 2015, he has been on the spot over blatant suppression of freedom of speech and presiding over a steady deterioration of political and democratic space in the East African country as witnessed in the October 2020 General Election that was marred by fraud claims.
The election which the former Chemistry and Mathematics teacher won with a landslide was marred by claims of police brutality, arrests, restricted access to polling stations, multiple voting, pre-ticking of ballots and widespread blocking of social media.
Soon after the results were announced, his closest challenger Tundu Lissu of Chadema party fled to Belgium citing threats to his life.
Opposition politician Godbless Lema also fled Tanzania to seek asylum in Kenya.
The Chadema official, who was later granted asylum in Canada, cited a crackdown on opposition leaders in Tanzania as the reason for fleeing his motherland.
Magufuli’s regime has also been on the spot for censoring the media.
In the period leading up to the October 2020 polls, the government imposed regulations that bar domestic broadcasters from airing foreign-made content without state approval.
The new regulations announced in August 2020 further require a government official to accompany any local journalist when covering a story with a foreigner.
Some of the journalists working with foreign media houses protested the punitive regulations but they were never reviewed.
In 2019, journalist Erick Kabendera, who often highlighted human rights abuses and political repression in Tanzania, was abducted and detained for days before he was charged in court.
Kabendera was taken into custody in late July 2019 after police claimed his citizenship was in question. They later changed tack and charged him with economic crimes including money laundering and tax evasion — offences not bailable in the country.
There was no prior information nor charge or arrest warrant against him.
He was freed seven months later after he entered into a plea-bargain agreement with the prosecution.
The journalist’s detention was described by rights groups as an example of the rising crackdown on press freedom and critics in the country.
The President also denied school girls who got pregnant a right to education.
Last year, Magufuli attracted criticism over Tanzania’s approach to the fight against Covid-19. He is on record denying the existence of Coronavirus in the entire East African country.
He used public rallies and Sunday church services to encourage Tanzanians to use steam therapy and other traditional methods to keep the virus, which he claimed had been defeated by “prayers”, at bay.
In January this year, he discouraged Tanzanians from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Western countries.
Magufuli claimed that Tanzanians who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 in other countries “brought a strange variant” back home.
He, however, recently softened his stance on the virus after a warning issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and urged Tanzanians to wear locally made masks.
Many hope that Samia, who is set to take over as Tanzania’s 6th and first Female President, will clean up his former boss’ misdoings.