Republic of Congo Presidential Candidate Dies of Covid-19

4 weeks ago
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Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, the main opposition candidate in the Republic of Congo, gave his final speech from his hospital bed, urging his fellow citizens to vote to expel an entrenched government.

DAKAR, Senegal — The opposition leader was too sick to make it to his final appointments before Sunday’s election.

“I am fighting death,” he said in a weak voice on Friday, removing an oxygen mask from his face to film a message addressed to the citizens of the Republic of Congo. “But I ask you to stand up and vote for change.”

Three days later, hours after the election, he was dead. He had tested positive for Covid-19.

The candidate, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, was trying to unseat President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power for 36 years. But on Friday, Mr. Kolélas fell ill.

As voters went to the polls on Sunday, Mr. Kolélas was evacuated by air to France for treatment. But he died on the plane on his way there, his campaign director said Monday morning at a meeting of Mr. Kolélas’s political party in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital.

Reuters TV

Few observers expected Mr. Kolélas to win the election. But his death is nevertheless a blow for a Central African country mired in an economic crisis. The country has reported 9,564 coronavirus cases so far, and has been averaging about 34 new cases a day lately, according to a New York Times database. As in many countries, this is likely an underestimate because testing levels are low.

A number of prominent African politicians have died in the past year. Some, like the Nigerian president’s right-hand man Abba Kyari and the South African cabinet minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu, are known to have died of Covid-19 complications. Official announcements for some others, like President John Magufuli of Tanzania and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, have said they died of heart problems, though rumors have swirled that the coronavirus played a role in their deaths.

In the video recorded from his hospital bed, Mr. Kolélas told Congolese voters that they owed it to their children to cast a ballot in the election.

“Fight. I will not have fought in vain,” he said in the video. “Rise up as one people. Make me happy. I’m fighting on my deathbed. You, too, fight for your change.”

The son of a former prime minister who also spent many years in opposition, Mr. Kolélas served as a minister under Mr. Nguesso for six years. But in the run-up to this year’s election, he said that the Republic of Congo had become a “police state.”

The internet was blocked across the country on Election Day, according to the monitoring organization Netblocks. Otherwise, the election seemed to go ahead without incident. Election results are expected later this week.

“Democracy is working in our country,” Mr. Nguesso said Monday.

A former military officer, Mr. Nguesso first came to power in 1977, after his predecessor was assassinated. He lost the country’s first multiparty election in 1992, but returned to power in 1997. In 2019 the nonprofit campaigning group Global Witness accused his son of stealing $ 50 million in state funds.

Almost half the population lives in poverty in the Republic of Congo, which is one of the main oil producers on the African continent.

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