John Magufuli: Cautionary Tale of The President Who Denied COVID-19

    John Magufuli: Cautionary Tale of The President Who Denied COVID-19
    John Magufuli: Cautionary Tale of The President Who Denied COVID-19

    President Magufuli downplayed the threat of COVID-19 in Tanzania and scoffed at global panic. He urged Tanzanians to put faith in prayer and homespun remedies such as steam inhalation rather than vaccines.

    He said vaccines were dangerous and part of a Western conspiracy.

    Vaccines are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS,” he said earlier this year. Last year he dismissed coronavirus testing kits, which he said had returned positive results on a goat and pawpaw fruit.

    President Mgufuli

    The Rap Song Which Came True

    Fast-forward in March 2021, Magufuli is said to be fighting for his life due to covid-19.

    Other reports indicate that he’s probably dead. The delays in announcing his fate have been seen as political to prevent his deputy president from ascending into the presidency.

    That’s where we draw similarities between Magufuli and Bingu wa Mutharika, the late president of Malawi. The circumstances surrounding his succession shocked many.

    In April 2012 the president of Malawi collapsed and died.

    Between the day he died and the official announcement of death, a LOT of things happened, including attempts to elbow Vice President Mrs. Joyce Banda out.

    Here is a little of it:

    Joyce Banda had fallen out with President Bingu wa Mutharika who had begun to position his own brother, Peter Mutharika, to succeed him. As vice president Joyce Banda opposed this arrangement so she was sidelined and eventually left the party to form her own opposition party.

    In Malawi, the president cannot fire a vice president per the Constitution of the country. A vice president automatically assumes power in the event of death or incapacitation of the president.

    So, with Bingu dead, Joyce Banda had to be president.

    But there was a problem:

    The ruling party wanted to swear in Peter, the president’s brother, as acting President and prevent Joyce Banda from becoming president.

    At the hospital in Malawi, while his brother’s body was being attended to, Peter Mutharika asked if it would not be a good idea for the Malawi army to take over government for a while, so that Joyce Banda doesn’t ever become president

    But when they summoned the Malawi Army Commander, one General Odillo, he refused to play along. He told them that the military correctly understood not only its role in such a situation, but also the constitutional provisions in the event of death of the President.

    Then they asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion. The AG advised that in the event of the president’s incapacitation, vice president Joyce Banda takes over in accordance with section 87 of the Malawi Constitution.

    Medical Treatment

    Later that day, on April 5, when Bingu wa Mutharika’s body was flown out of Malawi to South Africa for “medical treatment” his brother Peter did not go with the body to SA. He stayed behind to work on the succession matter.

    His first, and major obstacle was the military. So again, that evening, he called the army commander for a meeting at his house. Again, the army commander refused to play ball.

    The Commander was to later say: “the suggestion that the military should take over the country made me extremely uncomfortable because there is no provision at all in the Constitution which provides the military taking over power or getting involved in politics.”

    On 6th April, Cabinet Ministers & Deputy Ministers met to try and find a way of stopping Joyce Banda from becoming President. By now, they all knew that the President had died but they agreed to keep it to themselves and not tell Malawians or even the Vice President, Joyce Banda

    They decided that a court injunction against the Vice President’s ascendancy to the office of President would be obtained & this would allow cabinet members to choose an Acting President from among themselves.

    But this plan leaked and Malawians started to react:

    Civil society groups immediately organized a press conference where they demanded full compliance with constitutional provisions and indicated that the vice president Mrs Joyce Banda was the rightful person to take charge in the event that the President was incapacitated or dead.

    Former President Bakili Muluzi addressed a press conference & stated that the Constitution was very clear on the issue of succession in the event that the President was incapacitated. He demanded information on the state of the president’s health because rumour was he was dead

    On 6 April, Joyce Banda sent a letter to the Chief Cabinet Secretary seeking assurance that she was still Vice President and according to the Constitution she was in charge in the circumstance. The Chief Secretary did not respond to the letter.

    Joyce Banda then called the Army Commander seeking assurance about the preservation of constitutional order. The army assured her that it was firmly behind maintaining the constitutional order & would like to see full implementation of the constitutional provisions on succession.

    The Statement

    That afternoon, Joyce Banda invited media to her house where she read the following statement:

    “I have invited you members of the press in view of the intense speculation that is going on in the country and the international media about the state of health of the State President, Bingu wa Mutharika, who was flown to South Africa yesterday for treatment.

    The media’s interest in the matter is justified.The people of Malawi have the right to know about the state of health of our President. Government is waiting for a formal report on the state of health of our President. Meanwhile, I wish to appeal to all Malawians to remain calm”

    But that evening the ruling party met and decided that they needed more time to make the announcement about the health of the President. At this meeting, everyone knew that the President had died but there was pretence that he was still alive but critically ill.

    What they agreed was to file court papers to stop Joyce Banda at the High Court in the morning of 7th April. It was then agreed that soon after, cabinet would meet to elect Peter Mutharika Acting President. Once that was done, they would then announce the death of the President.

    The Midnight Six

    The Ministers agreed to prepare the people of Malawi for the events of the following day through a press statement. So a team of six ministers was appointed to draft a statement that was going to be read to the general public. They came to be known as the MIDNIGHT SIX

    The six ministers addressed Malawians at midnight on 6 April 2012, saying that Joyce Banda was ineligible to become president of Malawi. (When Joyce Banda became president, she arrested these six & charged them with treason for their mischief)

    On April 7, the day of the proposed court action, the Attorney General called the Minister of Justice to say he was NOT going to file court papers and would resign in protest if the government forced him to proceed to court to try stop Joyce Banda becoming president.

    The Attorney General then texted Peter Mutharika, the president’s brother, advising him to abandon the course he had taken and to further remind him that Malawi needed to be governed by constitutional order.

    In his final act of defiance, Attorney General called all concerned staff at the Ministry of Justice who were working on the case that the matter should not be filed in court. He told them not to go to the office and to switch off their phones.

    But Peter Mutharika was not ready to give up so they resolved to retain a private practice lawyer to take up the matter since the Attorney General had absconded. But the lawyer advised that chances of success with this court action were very, very slim.

    And the ground began to shift.

    After pressure from South African President Jacob Zuma and others, an announcement of the death of the president was made on 7 April. At this point some ministers and other politicians began repositioning themselves and moved to support Joyce Banda.

    On the day that the announcement of death was made, the Malawi army deployed the Military Police at Joyce Banda’s house to secure her and other strategic places such as Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (Radio and Television).

    That afternoon a cabinet meeting was held and was presided over by vice president Joyce Banda. All members attended meeting one who was out of the country, one who was reported to be unwell, and Peter Mutharika in view of the announced death of the president, his elder brother.

    At this meeting all members of the cabinet were given a chance to speak. They each pledged their support to Joyce Banda & renounced their earlier decision to contest her ascendancy to the presidency. They then agreed that she should be sworn in as president on that very day.

    All this while, the first lady was in South Africa with the body of her husband which was not to return to Malawi for several days. But before she left Malawi for South Africa, she had locked the her and the president’s private quarters at State House and taken the keys.

    But relatives of the president brought a carpenter to break the locks and force the doors open and they removed some of her and her husband’s personal belongings. Most of these items were packed in suitcases and boxes as they were being removed.


    At an inquiry into this matter, one officer, a relative of the dead president, said after the announcement of death, they panicked and started moving the President’s and the First Lady’s personal belongings and property from the State House.

    On hearing that her bedroom has been broken into, the First Lady called someone at State House and asked them to please look out and secure a wrist watch, which she said a very expensive watch that the President had bought her as a wedding gift.

    An auditor at State House told the Commission that he tried to reason with the late President’s relatives not to remove the items he did not succeed. At that point he started taking record of some of the items that were leaving the State House, but not all

    The auditor said that there was a situation where the president’s relatives wanted to remove some television screens from State House thinking that they were the late President’s personal property but he stopped them and advised them that those screens were govt property.

    Of particular interest was the testominy of one Ronneck Nkaliyalinga, who worked in the private wing of the State House:

    He said inside the president’s residence was a room that they never knew of before. When the room was forced open, three people went in and came out with bags and and bags. He suspected that there must have been money in that room.

    Where the money went; nobody knows.

    Joyce Banda started well, had immense goodwill at home and elsewhere, but then in two short years she bungled much of it.

    When Bingu settled for his brother, everyone had to fall in line. She didn’t.

    Many political operatives, sycophants and indeed all of cabinet had to show their allegiance to Bingu by being uncouth, demeaning and outright insulting towards Joyce Banda.

    Then the tables turned…