African leaders from across the continent on Monday paid tribute to Tanzania’s late president John Magufuli, who leaves a complex legacy following his sudden death from an illness shrouded in mystery.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets of the capital Dodoma, running alongside the motorcade carrying Magufuli’s casket to the Jamhuri Stadium for the funeral.
Some wept and others even collapsed, carried away by Red Cross officials, as the motorcade arrived, on the third day that Magufuli’s body has been lying in state.
Magufuli died aged 61 from what authorities say was a heart condition, after a mysterious absence of almost three weeks, and questions remain over the true cause of his death which the opposition has said was from Covid-19.
Only visiting presidents and their delegations, and very few Tanzanians, wore masks at the funeral of one of the world’s foremost Covid-sceptics, who insisted for months that prayer had fended off the virus.
The presidents of South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Comoros and Malawi, as well as other top representatives from across the continent, all paid tribute to Magufuli.
“From Magufuli, we learnt how to live without dependency from other people. Look at the roads, electricity and other infrastructure projects he implemented,” said Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta.
Felix Tshisekedi of the DRC, the current chairman of the African Union, said: “My word to Tanzanians, do not stop his spirit in pursuing development. He fought against the misuse of public resources and corruption which are a chronic cancer in Africa.”
Magufuli is hailed for his fight against corruption and massive infrastructure projects, but criticised for the stifling of democracy and crackdowns on the media, civil society and the opposition.
His legacy is also marred by his Covid denialism, which saw Tanzania refuse to issue data or take any measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan told the mourners that “the country is in safe hands. We will start where Magufuli ended.”
With all eyes on whether Hassan will handle the pandemic any differently, many citizens suspect the virus claimed Magufuli’s life.
“The timing of the death makes me connect it with Covid-19 because that’s when a lot of people including government leaders died from what the doctors and other officials commonly referred to as pneumonia,” said Andrew, a teacher in Dar es Salaam.
Mugufuli’s casket is being transported to six cities to allow people to pay their last respects.
Several were injured in a stampede Sunday in a Dar es Salaam stadium, while thousands later invaded an airport in the city as his casket was being flown to Dodoma.
His body will be taken to the archipelago of Zanzibar on Tuesday, and he will be buried in his home village of Chato in the northwest of the country on Friday.