President’s Absence Prompts Questions by Tanzania Opposition

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu questioned President John Magufuli’s whereabouts, as speculation swirled on social media that he’s fallen ill and been hospitalized.

Magufuli, 61, was last seen in public on Feb. 24 during a tour of the commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, where he inspected projects and addressed public gatherings. The president was scheduled to attend a virtual heads-of-state summit for the East African Community regional bloc on Feb. 27, but was represented by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

“The president’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern,” Lissu said in a tweet Tuesday. He cited public announcements of previous Tanzanian leaders’ illnesses, before asking: “What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?”

Tanzanian presidency spokesman Gerson Msigwa and government spokesman Hassan Abbasi didn’t answer their mobile phones when Bloomberg called each of them twice on Wednesday to request comment. The presidency last issued a statement on Feb. 27.

Information Minister Innocent Bashungwa warned against spreading “rumors,” saying those responsible will be held accountable. Bashungwa said on Twitter on Wednesday that Tanzanians should get information from official sources only. He didn’t comment on reports of the president’s hospitalization.

Magufuli, who secured a second five-year term in October, has drawn widespread criticism for his unorthodox handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While public hospitals have been swamped by people displaying Covid-19 symptoms, he’s declared the country free of the disease, eschewed vaccines and advised his people to pray and undergo steam therapy to safeguard their health.

Lissu’s remark came after FichuaTanzania, a human rights group, reported that Magufuli traveled to neighboring Kenya to receive treatment at a hospital in the capital, Nairobi. It urged Tanzania’s government to provide an official comment on the report.

Kenya’s The Nation newspaper reported that an African leader had been admitted to a Nairobi hospital. It said it couldn’t reveal his name as government officials from both Kenya and the leader’s home nation had declined to provide official confirmation.

Nairobi Hospital Chief Executive Officer James Nyamongo was unavailable for comment when Bloomberg called his office Wednesday morning. Kenya’s State House spokeswoman, Kanze Dena, didn’t answer a call seeking comment.

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