Zanzibar’s vice president dies after contracting COVID-19

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Zanzibar’s first vice president, Seif Sharif Hamad, who led the island’s opposition for three decades, died Wednesday, the president said, after he had been hospitalised for over three weeks with coronavirus.

Tanzania and its semi-autonomous island Zanzibar have played down the threat of the virus, which President John Magufuli claims has been fended off by prayer.

However, Hamad’s ACT-Wazalendo party announced in January that the 77-year-old had been hospitalised with the virus, as part of rising evidence of a surge in cases in the country.

“Hamad died this morning at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was hospitalised,” Zanzibar president Ali Hassan Mwinyi said in a short speech broadcast by state-run ZBC television.

“The nation has really lost a patriotic leader. I also declare seven days of mourning and the national flag will fly at half-mast.”

Magufuli also expressed his condolences in a message on Twitter.

Neither leader mentioned the cause of death.

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Hamad was born on the island of Pemba, part of the Zanzibar archipelago.

He was a member of Tanzania’s sole ruling party, the CCM, and served as Chief Minister of Zanzibar until being expelled and imprisoned for two years from 1989 to 1991.

In 1992, when Tanzania adopted a multiparty system, Hamad formed the Civic United Front (CUF) party, the main opposition on Zanzibar.

He would go on to face off against CCM candidates in six elections on the volatile island — once a centre of the Arab slave trade — where sectarian and political tensions have always been more marked than on the mainland.

Hamad’s CUF was long seen as more aligned with the old Arab oligarchy, calling for independence from the mainland, however increasingly was supported by African Zanzibaris fed up with economic woes on the island, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a 2019 report.