Zanzibar's Seif Sharif Hamad dies weeks after getting Covid

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Image source, AFP

The vice-president of Tanzania's semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar has died, nearly three weeks after his party said he had contracted Covid-19.

No official reason has been given for the death of Seif Sharif Hamad, popularly known as Maalim Seif, at the age of 77.

He was the most prominent politician in Tanzania to have openly declared that he had the virus.

Health experts have accused the authorities in Tanzania of downplaying the threat posed by Covid-19.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has called for prayers and herbal remedies to counter it.

Mr Hamad was a senior member of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party, which has been critical of the government's policy on Covid.

The BBC's Aboubakar Famau looks back at Mr Hamad's life.

Thousands of supporters of Mr Hamad would flock to political rallies in Zanzibar just to catch a glimpse of him.

His eloquence, charisma and obvious power while on the political stage made him a force to be reckoned with.

This former teacher - hence his name, Maalim, meaning "teacher" in Swahili - would attract both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, to his rallies. They would all be clad in party regalia, chanting political slogans.

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Image caption,
Mr Hamad started his political career in the ruling party, before going into opposition

"We are where you are," they would shout in a demonstration of their unwavering loyalty and dedication.

But they regarded him as more than a politician. They saw him as a fatherly figure who relentlessly fought for their rights.

And they were loyal to him rather than to his party, which was evident last year when Mr Hamad decided to leave the Civic United Front (Cuf), in which he had served as general secretary since its formation in 1992.

Six unsuccessful presidential bids

His departure was over an internal wrangle and thousands of his supporters followed him to the ACT-Wazalendo party.

He started his political life as a member of the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, but was expelled in 1988 after falling out with the leadership.

While with CCM, he served as Zanzibar's chief minister between 1984 and 1988. The position was later renamed vice-president.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Hamad (L) exchanged a leg greeting with Tanzania's President Magufuli in March last year

In opposition he ran unsuccessfully for president of Zanzibar six times. Some of the polls were marred by irregularities and gross human rights abuses.

The worst post-poll violence was in January 2001 where more than a dozen of his supporters were shot dead in the island of Pemba as they were protesting against results of the 2000 election.

Nevertheless, it was obvious that time was running out as illness and age were both taking their toll on Mr Hamad.

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Unlike in other general elections, in the 2020 campaign he was visibly frail, asking for physical support from his bodyguards as he climbed on stage.

He was detained several times, most recently in October on the eve of the general election. He was later released.

In the wake of this defeat in the election, in a reconciliatory move by Zanzibar's President Hussein Mwinyi, he was appointed as first vice-president for a second term.

He may never have achieved his dream of winning the top job, but joining President Mwinyi's unity government would have probably been some consolation to him.