Nolan Quinn is a research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa Program.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen populist leaders the world over downplay the disease in apparent attempts to project calm and confidence amid crisis. Yet perhaps none has been as brazen in their approach to the pandemic as Tanzanian President John Magufuli. The president previously declared the East African country free of the virus, but a recent spike in cases—officially attributed to pneumonia—along with deaths of members of parliament and other top officials suggests the reality is much different. Magufuli has nonetheless doubled down, refusing to accept vaccines and professing that Tanzania “managed to defeat these respiratory diseases through prayer last year. I am sure we will do so this year.”