Messages of condolences from leaders in Africa and the rest of the world have been pouring in as Tanzania comes to terms with the death of President John Magufuli. A succession plan has already been set in motion.
Most residents of Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar heard the news of Magufuli's death on Thursday morning. Some of them told DW that they could not imagine Tanzania without Magufuli at the helm.
"It is a huge tragedy, and we are all confused," one Zanzibari said. "He was the [Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM)] party leader and also president of the republic."
A woman who broke down in tears said the news of the president's death had come as a great shock. "He was a doer, a president who took action."
For Cathrine Peternao, Zanzibar's CCM spokesperson, President Magufuli boosted Tanzanians' confidence in their country. "We had no clue, but he brought us together and told us, 'this is how Tanzania looks like'," Peternao told DW.
For those who admired the populist leader, the gap he has left on the political stage will be hard to fill. "What I can say about our president is that when we say he left a vacuum, we really mean that," Tanzania's speaker of the national assembly, Job Ndugai, said.
"He was someone who loved Tanzania. He sacrificed a lot for Tanzanians. His contribution to Tanzania's development is immense, especially in the infrastructure sector — roads, airports, ports, air transport, building vessels on lakes, our ocean. Indeed he has served Tanzanians," Ndugai told DW.
But for those who questioned Magufuli's leadership style, particularly his icy relationship with the media and erosion of democratic rights, this could be an opportunity to usher in a new political era. "I am not saying that he disliked the media. In my opinion, he was wary of the press," Salum Vuai, a sociologist, told DW. "In some conflicts around the world, the media is known to have played a key role."
News of Magufuli's death sent shockwaves across the east and central African region. In neighboring Kenya, where his absence had generated a lot of interest. President Uhuru Kenyatta Thursday announced a one-week mourning period.
He also ordered the flags be flown at half-mast in the country and all embassies and consulates. "I have lost a fellow leader. Kenya stands with the nation of Tanzania at this time," Kenyatta said.
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga, a close ally of the late Tanzania president, tweeted that Magufuli had put Tanzania on the world map.
"I want to offer my deepest condolences to Tanzanians for the loss of their president," Husna, a resident in Kenya's capital Nairobi told DW.
"He used his presidency to lift poor Tanzanians, "Hassan Wanini, another Nairobi resident, said. "We are all mourning."
Rwandan President Paul Kagame took to Twitter to express his sympathy with Tanzanians.
"We are very shocked by the death of the Tanzanian president," Togo's foreign minister, Robert Dussey, told DW "The situation that the African continent and each of our countries are going through today [COVID-19], it deserves that we become much more aware of what is at stake for our countries.
Dussey offered condolences to the people of Tanzania but declined to be drawn on speculation over the cause of death. "We don't want to get involved in this controversy. But whether he died from COVID-19 or not, one thing is clear: we have to be very careful. We are in a pandemic, and the only thing we can do is protect ourselves," he said.
The US issued a statement saying it "remains committed to continuing to support Tanzanians as they advocate for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and work to combat the pandemic. UK's Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted a message of condolence.
In the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, people on Thursday put aside their security fears to reflect on Magufuli. "Even though I never met him, I cried," Theodile Bulabula, a Bukavu resident, told DW. "In Bukavu, we used to joke that Tanzania should loan us Magufuli so that he can help develop our country."
According to Robert Kazaroho, leader of the CPPD party in Bukavu, Magufuli's death results from a political battle against Africa. "Pierre Nkurunziza [late Burundian president] and John Magufuli were both strong skeptics of COVID-19, and both died under mysterious circumstances," Kazaroho told DW. "We believe that this was planned by those who brought COVID."
The Tanzanian constitution stipulates that the vice president take up the president's role if the president dies or is incapable of performing his duties. This task now falls to Samia Suluhu Hassan.
According to Tanzania's constitution, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan is now the acting president
Once sworn in, she will make history as the first woman to lead a nation in East Africa. The 61-year-old politician is expected to serve as president until the end of 2025, when the next presidential elections are scheduled. The incoming president will have to contend with the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed several prominent politicians. She will also have to decide whether to adopt the same COVID-skeptic stance as Magufuli or impose strict measures to control the spread of the virus.
However, Jebra Kambole, a Tanzanian legal expert, said the constitution does not give a specific timeframe when the deputy president must be sworn in.
"Our constitution is very clear. The presidency vacancy can not have a vacuum," Zitto Kabwe, opposition Leader for the ACT-Wazalendo party in Tanzania, said. "This is the first time for the Republic of Tanzania to lose the president while in office, so it is something new to our country," Kabwe told DW, adding that it is an enormous tragedy. "So now we have a new president-elect, who has not been sworn in. We expect that the authorities will act on this as soon as possible."
There is no other person mandated to take over the presidency rather than the vice president. "I expect Samia Suluhu Hassan to take over as the next president of the United Republic of Tanzania," lawyer Kambole said.
Lilian Mtono, Mitima Delachance, Thelma Mwadzaya, Salma Said and Carole Assignon contributed to this article.