Ivory Coast PM and presidential candidate Coulibaly dies aged 61

Abidjan (AFP) –


Ivory Coast Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died Wednesday after attending a cabinet meeting, just three months before presidential elections that he was due to contest. He was 61.

Coulibaly was the ruling RHDP coalition's candidate for president in an election scheduled in October. He was appointed prime minister in 2017.

"I am deeply saddened to announce that Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, the head of government, left us early this afternoon after taking part in a cabinet meeting," Patrick Achi, secretary general to the Ivory Coast presidency, said on public television.

Coulibaly returned to the West African country last week after a two-month stay in France to receive medical treatment for recurring heart problems.

His death creates huge uncertainty over the election in the world's top cocoa grower, which has returned to normalcy after years of political turbulence and a low-level civil war.

Coulibaly was named as the candidate for President Alassane Ouattara's party in early March, after Ouattara ended months of speculation and said he would not seek a controversial third term.

Ouattara in 2011 ousted the then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing elections in a standoff that triggered violence that claimed some 3,000 lives. He has served two terms.

"I pay tribute to my younger brother, my son Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who was my closest collaborator for 30 years," Ouattara said in a statement.

"I salute the memory of a statesman, a man of great loyalty, dedication and love for his homeland," he added.

Coulibaly's death raises the question of who might now be chosen as the party's presidential candidate, with some speculating it could be Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko.

Others suggest that Ouattara might also decide to run again now and that there is no "plan B".

Following the closure of Ivory Coast's borders due to the coronavirus pandemic, Coulibaly -- who had a heart transplant in 2012 -- travelled to France on May 2 for medical care.

- 'Lion of Korhogo' -

He received a stent about a week after arriving in France following an exam of his coronary arteries.

"I am back to take my place by the side of the president, to continue the task of developing and building our country," Coulibaly said on arrival at the airport in Abidjan last Thursday.

A father of five who earned an engineering degree in France, he had a reputation for hard work and a temper that led to his nickname, "The Lion" of Korhogo, the country's fourth largest city, which was his native place.

Coulibaly wielded great influence among traditional leaders of the Senoufo ethic group, from which he came.

But critics said he lacked charisma and his nomination for president did not go down well with several leaders of his ruling coalition, the Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP).

His many positions since starting out in politics in 1994 at Ouattara's side included technical advisor, senior civil servant, deputy and mayor of Korhogo, agriculture minister, cabinet minister and finally prime minister.

Like Ouattara, he was at ease in international financial circles and was also the country's budget minister, giving priority to solid macro-economic management over social programmes, according to critics.