NAIROBI, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals, died on Wednesdayat a hospital in the port city of Dar es Salaam. He was 61.
His death was announced on television by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said Mr. Magufuli had died of heart complications while being treated at Mzena Hospital. The announcement followed more than a week of intense speculation that Mr. Magufuli was critically ill with Covid-19 — reports that senior government officials had repeatedly denied.
Ms. Hassan did not specify the nature of Mr. Magufuli’s underlying illness in her brief televised remarks, but said that he had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than a decade. She said that flags will fly at half-staff nationwide and that funeral arrangements were underway.
Mr. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure.
But the leader, popularly known as “the Bulldozer,” was soon accused of muzzling dissent, rolling back freedom of expression and association, and pushing through laws that shored up his Party of the Revolution’s grip on power.
That marked a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors who had promoted the East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy.
During his first term, Mr. Magufuli’s government banned opposition rallies, revoked the licenses of nongovernmental organizations and introduced laws that critics said repressed independent reporting. He also said that pregnant girls should not be allowed in school.
Rights groups accused his government of failing to carry out credible investigations into the killings, abductions and persecution of journalists who were critical of the government and opposition figures.
As Mr. Magufuli sought a second term last fall, the authorities made it harder for opposition parties to campaign, froze the bank accounts of civil society groups, denied accreditation to election observers and journalists, and refused to let opposition representatives into polling stations.