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The leaders that Africa lost in year of great hardship

By Joe Ombuor | December 31st 2020

Former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings. [Courtesy]

Like the setting sun, the year 2020 is glowering red to its retirement. But only after wreaking havoc galore and leaving tears in its wake, thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has left the world bleeding.

The virus did not discriminate as it snuffed out the lives of presidents and prime ministers. Some leaders, however, died of other causes.

One of the first Covid-19 victims, on March 30, was Jacques Yombi Opango, who served as prime minister of the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville) between 1977 and 1979.

Former Prime minister of the Republic of Congo Jacques Yombi Opango. [File, Courtesy]

Former Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein went to his grave two days later on April 1, aged 82, after contracting Covid-19. He served between 2007 to 2009.

Closely following on his heels to the world yonder on April 5 was Mohamed Jibril, the former head of the rebel government that overthrew Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Hardly a week later, on April 11, former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo – who was in power between 1984 to 1996 and 2005 to 2006 – bowed out in Paris. Kodjo also served as secretary-general of the Organisation of African Unity between 1978 and 1983.

The football-loving Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, who had been in power since 2005, succumbed to Covid-19 on June 8. His wife, Denise Bucumi, was flown to a Nairobi hospital where she was treated and recovered. She returned home to bury her husband, who died aged 56.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza leaves after the closing ceremony of the 14th annual Francophonie summit in Kinshasa October 14, 2012. [Noor Khamis, Reuters]

Barely three days later, on June 11, former Gabonese Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet – a diplomat of long standing who held power between 2016 to 2019 – died at 59.

The death on July 8 of 61-year-old Ivory Coast Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who took over the reins of power in 2017 and was President Alassane Ouattara’s choice for successor in elections scheduled for October 31, threw the cocoa-producing nation into turmoil.

This prompted changes to the constitution to allow President Ouattara to run for a third term despite having promised never to vie for office at the end of his tenure. The decision triggered political upheaval that resulted in many deaths and displacement as Ivorian refugees flocked to neighbouring countries.

The third president of neighbouring Tanzania, Benjamin William Mkapa, who rose from a journalist to head the East African country, died at 81 on July 24.

Mkapa, who held power between 1995 to 2005, remained active after his retirement and participated in peace negotiations across the African continent.

Benjamin William Mkapa. [Courtesy]

He was among the eminent personalities led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan who saved Kenya from slipping into the abyss after violence broke out in 2007/2008 following a disputed presidential election.

There was a lull until November when more former heads of state and government passed away. Former Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was in power between 2002 to 2012, went to be with his ancestors on November 10 at the age of 72.

He was followed two days later by 73-year-old former Ghana President John Jerry Rawlings, who ruled between 1981 to 2001. Rawlings was widely credited with putting Ghana on the fast lane among Africa's fledgling democracies.

Former President of Niger Mamadou Tandja, who served between 1999 to 2010, died on November 24 at the age of 81.

Only two days later, former Sudanese Prime Minister and religious leader Sadiq al-Mahdi – who held power between 1966 to 1967 and 1986 to 1989 – succumbed to Covid-19 at the age of 83.

Former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya, who ruled between 1987 to 1993 and 1996 to 2003, passed away on December 17 at the age of 71.

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