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Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who gained fame as one of the world’s most vehement deniers of the COVID-19 threat, has died at the age of 61 after disappearing from public view more than two weeks ago.

His death was announced on Tanzanian television on Wednesday night by the vice-president, Samia Suluhu Hassan.

She said Mr. Magufuli died on Wednesday evening from a heart complication in a hospital in Dar es Salaam. But many reports, circulating for the past week, have claimed that he was seriously ill with the coronavirus.

Mr. Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer,” rose to power in 2015 and was re-elected last year in a disputed vote in which many opposition activists were arrested or forced into exile. He gained early popularity for his anti-corruption campaigns and his battles with multinational mining companies, including Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp., but later pushed the country in an authoritarian direction.

Nearly a year ago, the Tanzanian government stopped disclosing any data on COVID-19 cases, while Mr. Magufuli mocked the virus tests, criticized face masks and urged Tanzanians instead to rely on prayer, herbal remedies and steam inhalation.

Mr. Magufuli denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy and refused to allow his government to order any COVID-19 vaccines, provoking the World Health Organization to issue an unusual statement of concern in which it criticized his government’s secrecy and urged it to accept vaccines.

In early January, during a meeting with Chinese foreign affairs minister Wang Yi, he insisted there was no COVID-19 in Tanzania. He shook hands with the diplomat and thanked him for refraining from wearing a mask.

Despite his denials, there was mounting evidence that COVID-19 was inflicting heavy damage on Tanzania in recent months, especially with the arrival of new variants. Several top leaders and senior officials died of COVID-19 or from unexplained illnesses. Hospitals were reported to be full, and the WHO warned that travellers from Tanzania were exporting the virus to other countries. - Geoffrey York,  The Globe and Mail

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame receiving the first injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo URUGWIRO VILLAGE / AFP


Rwanda's President Paul Kagame on Thursday became the first leader in East Africa to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, which has been rolled out in the region in recent days, his office announced.

Kagame, 63, and his wife Jeannette, were pictured receiving their jabs on the Rwandan presidency's official Twitter account, which said more than 200,000 people had received the vaccine.

It was not specified which vaccine they received. Rwanda has received some 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech drug and 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford medicine.

Rwanda, a country of 12 million, plans to inoculate 30 percent of its population this year, and 60 percent by the end of 2022.

In February, Rwanda became the first country in East Africa to begin vaccinating against the disease, targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers after acquiring around 1,000 doses of the Moderna jab.

The country has carried out more than a million tests and detected almost 20,000 cases, with 271 deaths since the outbreak of the virus.

It imposed some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures on the continent, including one of Africa's first total shutdowns in March 2020. It put capital Kigali back under a full lockdown in January after a surge in cases.

So far in East Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda have begun vaccinating. Ethiopia -- the worst hit in the region -- will start on Saturday. - AFP/The EastAfrican

A refugee receives his COVID-19 vaccination at the Gashora Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Rwanda.  Photo Plaisir Muzogeye


Gashora, RWANDA – On 10 March, Samira Aman, an Ethiopian refugee living in Rwanda, became one of the first refugees in the country to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I feel so privileged,” said Samira, one of more than 300 refugees living at the Emergency Transit Mechanism centre in Gashora, located some 60 kilometres outside the capital Kigali, to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

Samira arrived at the centre two months ago, one of hundreds of refugees that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has helped leave Libya, where weak rule of law and ongoing conflict have placed refugees in danger from human traffickers, smugglers and militia.

“It means a lot to me to be able to be free like this in Rwanda,” Samira said.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Health rolled out its countrywide COVID-19 vaccination campaign about one week ago, beginning with high-risk groups such as health workers, teachers and older people. More than 230,000 people have so far received their first injection.

The Government of Rwanda determined that including refugees and asylum-seekers in its vaccination plans would be the best way to protect the country of 13.2 million, which has seen nearly 20,000 cases of COVID-19, with 271 deaths.

More than 416 refugees who work for health services across the six refugee settlements in the country along with all the adult refugees currently at the transit centre were vaccinated this week.

“COVID-19 has had an effect on everyone in our country, whether they be Rwandans, foreigners, refugees, or asylum-seekers,” said Olivier Kayumba, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Emergency Management. “Vaccines are for everyone, and they are being distributed as they become available.”

UNHCR, which has urged all countries to include forcibly displaced and stateless people in their vaccination programmes, praised the Rwandan government’s efforts. Of the 151 countries currently developing COVID-19 vaccination programmes, 106 have explicitly included refugees and 33 are in the process of doing so.

“Ensuring that refugees are included in the vaccine programme is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda. “Their inclusion in the national vaccination rollout is another mark of the Government of Rwanda’s generosity and humanitarian commitment towards the cause of refugees and asylum-seekers.”

Abdulbasit and Zainab, who left Libya and now live in the centre with their two children, were relieved to get their first shot. 

“As a father of two, getting my first vaccine dose is gratifying. It’s even exciting,” Abdulbasit, 21, said.

Abdelbagi Hussein, a Sudanese refugee, said he thought he would have to wait until he settled in another country to receive his first shot.

“I hadn’t imagined being vaccinated so soon,” he said. “I can’t find a word to say thank you to the Rwandan government. I really thank them very much from the bottom of my heart.” - UNHCR

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