Was Covid really to blame for the deaths of two populist African leaders?

Special to WorldTribune, March 31, 2021

Analysis by Eric Clary

Part I: Tanzania’s Magufuli, 61: Downsized government, spurned China loans, defied LGBT lobby, March 24, 2021

Coronavirus allegations have clouded the deaths of at least two prominent African leaders.

Most recently, popular Tanzanian populist John Magufuli allegedly succumbing to Covid-19 on March 17 this year.

Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas

Before Tanzania could lay former president John Magufuli to rest, the lead challenger to Denis Sassou-Nguesso, the incumbent dictatorial president of the Republic of the Congo, suffered a similar fate and in dramatic fashion.

Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, 61, died while being transferred to Paris aboard a French medical plane, presumably, to be treated for Covid-19.

In the final moments of Kolélas’ life, he stripped away his oxygen mask to tell supporters, “My dear compatriots, I am in trouble. I am fighting death. However, I ask you to stand up and vote for change. I would not have fought for nothing.” [See video below.]

The timing couldn’t have been worse when Kolélas fell ill on March 19, just two days before presidential elections in Congo-Brazzaville.

The death of Africa’s second populist leader from a Covid-19 infection within days and the details surrounding the events resemble the machinations of a spy novel.

Needless to say, in a country torn by ethnic strife, the official cause of death is not being accepted by all sides.

A report released by the French Ministry of Justice concludes that Kolélas experienced a cardio-respiratory failure due to pneumonia “compatible with the Congolese medical finding of Covid-19.” But the autopsy findings did little to assuage rampant online rumors about the timing and circumstances surrounding Kolélas’ death.

Before Kolélas died, rumors began circulating that that the contender had been poisoned. Kolélas’ campaign manager, Christian Cyr Rodrigue Mayanda, claims that, “Kolélas had already been the subject of an attempted poisoning last year. He said that the President of the Republic no longer wanted to see him, and attempts to eliminate him were taken very seriously.”

This was not Kolélas’ first altercation with the Nguesso administration.

In 2016, the former paratrooper and colonel Nguesso defeated Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas in a bogus election. Violence broke out between Kolélas and Nguesso loyalists that left scores dead. A recently released report by OCCRP revealed that up to 17 arms shipments from Azerbaijan had been sent to the Nguesso regime since 2015.

According to investigators, “There are no public records of Azerbaijan exporting these weapons, and no similar records of Congo-Brazzaville importing them. The latest transfer has sparked opposition concerns that Sassou-Nguesso is prepared to use force if necessary to maintain power as the country’s March 21 election nears.”

It’s hard to believe that if a similar scenario had occurred involving Tanzania’s former President John Magufuli that Washington would’ve remained silent. But after the bizarre 2021 election in a historically corrupt country, the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville merely released a generic statement calling on officials to remain democratic. This reaction stands in stark contrast to the State Department’s tone on the re-election of John Magufuli last year in 2020.

“President John Magufuli was re-elected for a second five-year term on Oct. 28, 2020 in an election that was marred by widespread irregularities and was the culmination of years of systematic intimidation and marginalization of opposition parties, civil society organizations and independent media.”

An op-ed released by U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Donald J Wright echoed a similar sentiment. On its surface, the policy discrepancies between the international communities’ indifference towards Nguesso versus the assaults on Magufuli on human rights grounds are incongruous.

To recall from part one of this series, Tanzania was sanctioned for enforcing anti-homosexual laws by the United States and World Bank. Magufuli targeted corruption within Tanzania and renegotiated a major infrastructure contract with the Beijing that was later dropped. Magufuli left legacy of anticorruption and nationalism that won him diehard supports, but made him plenty of enemies. What is known about Kolélas is that he was from a similar mold.

In fact, the AFP informs that Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas had drawn closer to Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Rally of France. “They’re my friends, I’m not ashamed of it,” Kolélas remarked.

The apple must not fall far from the tree. Guy-Brice resembles his father Bernard Bakana Kolélas, who founded MCDDI, the main opposition party to the Marxist-Leninist Congolese Labour Party headed by Nguesso. After Kolélas senior’s death, opposition party leader Christophe Moukouéké recounted, “President Kolélas will have been one of the few, if not the only person who will have, clearly and clearly, expressed his opposition to the socialism which has reigned in the country from 1963.”

With both Kolélas junior and senior out of the picture, President Nguesso skated to an easy victory garnering 88 percent of the vote in an election roundly criticized as corrupt. In an oil rich country where the gross national income (GNI) is among the lowest in the world, few observers where surprise that the venal Nguesso family had been implicated on corruption charges. At 77, Nguesso has reigned Congo for more than half of his life, which means a continuation of business as usual.

The international community’s gross acceptance of blatant corruption by Nguesso is tantamount to a blessing. And as speculation swirls around the demise of Magufuli and Kolélas, the real message Washington sends to worlds leaders is: tow the culturally progressive line and keep the spigot to natural resources flowing.

The video of Kolélas last video message before passing away can be viewed here

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