Military officers carry the coffin of former President John Magufuli, draped with the national flag, during a funeral service in his home town of Chato, Tanzania, Friday, March 26, 2021. Some thousands have gathered in the northwestern town of Chato for the burial of former Tanzanian President John Magufuli whose denial of COVID-19 brought the country international criticism. (AP Photo)/NAI101/21085577935032//2103261738

In the UK, the media has been dominated by stories about Prince Phillip – an unelected but nonetheless prominent public figure – who passed away on 9 April. A few weeks earlier, tens of thousands of Tanzanians crammed into the national stadium to pay their respects to President John Magufuli, who officially died on 17 March.

Sadly the loss of sitting presidents is not a rare occurrence in Africa. Recent examples include Zambia’s Michael Sata in 2014, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Ghana’s John Atta Mills and Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012, Nigeria’s Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010, and Gabon’s Omar Bongo in 2008.

The way that these leaders are mourned has profound things to tell us about what unites societies – the common national symbols and ideas that are emphasised by governments and mainstream media.

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