A portrait of Tanzania's former President John Magufuli is placed next to a book of condolences inside Tanzania's High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, March 18, 2021. President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent COVID-19 skeptic whose populist rule often cast his country in a harsh international spotlight, died aged 61 of heart failure, it was announced by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Wednesday. (AP Photo)

No evidence to support claim Tanzania’s virus-sceptic president was murdered

AAP FactCheck June 25, 2021

The Statement

A Facebook post claims the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli was murdered due to his views on COVID-19.

The June 3 post said the president was killed “because he opposed the insane global medical experiment” before it goes on to make several negative claims about COVID-19 vaccines.

It was posted by Australian Jamie McIntyre, who has previously shared false information regarding COVID-19 and vaccines (see here and here).

A number of similar claims about Mr Magufuli’s death have been made on social media – see here, here and here – including in an Instagram post which claims Mr Magufuli “was murdered by the Chinese in callaboration (sic) with the western countries”.

The Facebook post from June 3
 A social media post claims claims the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli was murdered. 

The Analysis

The late Tanzanian president John Magufuli was a prominent COVID-19 sceptic who reportedly died from a heart condition at the age of 61 on March 17. While baseless claims he was assassinated for his views on COVID-19 have gone viral on social media, there is no evidence that he was murdered.

The Facebook post credits an article in The Australian for “acknowledging” that Mr Magufuli was murdered. However, the article by columnist Peter Hoysted does not include the suggestion – rather, it repeats the official announcement that Mr Magufuli died of heart failure while noting speculation that he had in fact contracted COVID-19.

The article states that official reports, from then Tanzanian vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan, said Mr Magufuli died from “chronic atrial fibrillation”, which in “an overwhelming number of cases … is easily treated by a pharmacological response”.

“We’ll never know the exact cause of death but Mr Magufuli was the world’s most politically prominent avowed anti-vaxxer, a national leader spruiking his own version of anti-vax misinformation,” it continues.

The article ends by saying those opposed to COVID-19 vaccination “are going to go out feet first, the Magufuli way”.

The news of the former president’s death was widely reported around the world and attributed to his heart condition. There were no credible reports that suggested he was murdered.

The BBC reported that his death was officially announced by Ms Hassan, who has since become president. On March 17, Ms Hassan said Mr Magufuli died from “heart complications” at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The report said Mr Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent coronavirus sceptics and that opposition politicians claimed he had contracted COVID-19, although this had not been confirmed. The BBC said he had not been seen in public for two weeks prior to his death and “rumours had been circulating about his health”.

It noted that Mr Magufuli declared Tanzania COVID-19-free last year after three days of prayer.

Al Jazeera reported that Mr Magufuli had suffered from a heart condition for a decade and had been taken to Jakaya Kikwete Cardiac Institute on March 6. It said he was subsequently discharged but was rushed to hospital again on March 14 after feeling unwell and later died from the condition.

Mr Magufuli had downplayed the severity of COVID-19, “urging Tanzanians to pray, use steam inhalation and embrace local remedies to protect themselves from the respiratory disease”, Al Jazeera added.

Similarly, Reuters reported that Ms Hassan announced Mr Magufuli’s death from “heart disease that had plagued him for a decade”. It said he was last seen in public on February 27, “sparking rumours that he had contracted COVID-19”. On March 12, officials denied he had fallen ill, Reuters said.

The Guardian said that Mr Magufuli wore a pacemaker for a heart condition, while also noting rumours that he had died of COVID-19. It said some of the president’s staff reportedly contracted the coronavirus, adding that Mr Magufili had suggested people “pray and inhale herb-infused steam” to combat the disease rather than taking vaccines.

AAP FactCheck contacted the Tanzanian president’s office for comment, however it had not responded at the time of writing.

A fact check by Reuters found no evidence that Mr Magufuli was murdered, noting there had been a pattern of posts on social media claiming without evidence that various African leaders had been assassinated for opposing COVID-19 vaccination.

A portrait of Tanzania's former President John Magufuli.
 A portrait of Tanzania’s former President John Magufuli is placed next to a book of condolences. 

The Verdict

There is no credible evidence that late Tanzanian President John Magufuli was murdered. The country’s then-vice president Samia Suluhu Hassan has been quoted in multiple news reports as saying that Mr Magufuli died from a heart condition, which he had been suffering from for a decade. Several reports also raised unconfirmed claims that he may have died from COVID-19.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

All information, text and images included on the AAP Websites is for personal use only and may not be re-written, copied, re-sold or re-distributed, framed, linked, shared onto social media or otherwise used whether for compensation of any kind or not, unless you have the prior written permission of AAP. For more information, please refer to our standard terms and conditions.