DAKAR, Senegal – The opposition leader was too ill to make his final appointments before Sunday’s election.
“I am fighting death,” he said in a low voice on Friday, removing an oxygen mask from his face to send a message 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 tested positive for Covid-19.
The candidate, Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, tried to oust President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power for 36 years. But on Friday, Mr Kolélas fell ill.
When voters went to the polls on Sunday, Kolélas was evacuated by plane to France for treatment. But he died on the way there in the plane, his campaign director said on Monday morning during a meeting of Kolélas’ political party in Brazzaville, the Congolese capital.
Few observers expected Mr. Kolélas would win the election. But his death is nonetheless a blow to a country in Central Africa that is caught in an economic crisis. The country has so far reported 9,564 cases of coronavirus and, according to a New York Times database, has recently averaged about 34 new cases per day. As in many countries, this is probably an underestimation because the test levels are low.
A number of prominent African politicians have died in the past year. Some are known, such as the right-hand man of Nigerian President Abba Kyari and South African Cabinet Minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu, to Covid-19 complications. Official announcements for some others, such as President John Magufuli of Tanzania and President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, said they had died of heart problems, although rumors circulated that the coronavirus had played a role in their deaths.
In the video taken from his hospital bed, Mr. Kolélas told Congolese voters that they owed it to their children to vote in the election.
‘Fight. I would not have fought for nothing, “he said in the video. ‘Stand up as one people. Make me happy. I fight on my deathbed. You too are fighting for your change. ”
The son of a former prime minister who also spent many years in opposition, Mr Kolélas served as minister under Mr. Nguesso served. But in the run-up to this year’s election, he said that the Republic of Congo has become a ‘police state’.
According to the monitoring organization Netblocks, the internet was blocked across the country on election day. Otherwise, the election appears to have proceeded without incident. Election results are expected later this week.
“Democracy works in our country,” he said. 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 multi-party election in 1992, but came back to power in 1997. In 2019, the non-profit Global Witness campaign accuses his son of stealing $ 50 million from state funds.
Nearly half of the population lives in poverty in the Republic of Congo, which is one of the most important oil producers on the African continent.