Tanzanian opposition demands answers on president's health

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli (C) seen here inspecting guards, has not been seen in public since the end of February
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Tanzania's opposition has demanded to know the whereabouts of President John Magufuli, who has not been seen in public in almost two weeks, raising concerns about his health.

Magufuli's absence has led to a flurry of rumours on social media, with the hashtag #Pray4Magufuli trending in neighbouring Kenya on Wednesday, with many speculating he may have Covid-19.

Several Tanzanian officials have died recently, while the finance minister appeared last month coughing and gasping at a press conference outside a hospital to dispel rumours he had died of Covid-19.

Magufuli insisted for months that Covid-19 had been fended off by prayer, refusing measures such as masks and lockdowns, but last month conceded it was still circulating after the vice-president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died of the virus.

Magufuli was last seen in public on February 27 when he swore in a new chief secretary, and has since skipped a regional heads of state virtual summit and two Sunday church services, which he regularly attends.

"The President's well-being is a matter of grave public concern," opposition leader Tundu Lissu wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

"We're informed when (former president Jakaya) Kikwete had prostate surgery. We're told when (former president Benjamin) Mkapa went for hip replacement ... What's it with Magufuli that we don't deserve to know?"

Meanwhile, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reported that "an African leader" from a country which has refused face masks and public health measures, had been admitted to the Nairobi Hospital.

An official at the hospital told AFP "we don't know" when asked if Magufuli had been admitted, while Kenyan government sources denied the information.

"There are things like health issues which are private but for a public leader, people need to know. We don't want all details but at least knowing when the leader is ill or hospitalised," the secretary general of the opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo), Ado Shaibu, told AFP.

"When you make such information open, you reduce room for unnecessary panic and spread of rumours."

Tanzania's government has yet to comment on Magufuli's whereabouts, however Information Minister Innocent Bashungwa on Wednesday warned media and citizens against "using rumours as source of information."

Tanzania stopped releasing data on Covid-19 in April 2020 and in January Magufuli said vaccines for the disease were "dangerous".

The head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last month appealed to Tanzania to take "robust action" against Covid-19, after several travellers from the country tested positive.

After months of denying the presence of the virus, Magufuli revealed in February that some of his aides and family members had contracted Covid-19 but recovered.

"Let us all depend on God as we also take other preventive measures. I put God first and that is why I do not wear a mask."

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