The West African state of Ivory Coast was plunged into disarray on Thursday after the sudden death of its prime minister, the front-runner in looming elections for the presidency.
Commentators said the demise of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who died after receiving heart treatment abroad, was a devastating blow to a country still scarred by a low-level civil war.
“Ivory Coast in a state of shock,” headlined the daily L’Inter. “Thunderclap,” said Soir Info. “Sledgehammer blow,” said Fraternite Matin.
Coulibaly was appointed prime minister in 2017, tasked with pursuing economic recovery in a country battered by slumping prices for its key exports of cocoa and coffee.
The French-educated engineer gained a reputation for hard work and a fiery temper.
The 61-year-old was named in March as the candidate for President Alassane Ouattara’s RHDP party in October’s presidentials, ending months of speculation that the 78-year-old incumbent would run again.
Ouattara, to much surprise, signalled he would step down after two terms in office rather than campaign again.
In 2011, Ouattara ousted the then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after losing elections. The months-long standoff claimed some 3,000 lives and left divisions that linger today.
Coulibaly returned to Ivory Coast last week after a two-month stay in France, where he received a coronary stent to alleviate recurring heart problems. He died on Wednesday.
“He had just got back from being ill, I thought he was OK,” said Johanne Ibo Kouakou, a trader, among many in Abidjan who voiced their shock.
“Amadou was like our father,” said Mahamadi Sawadogo, a security guard.
“This has really shocked us. He was a great man. He worked really hard — people were counting on him to complete what Alassane Ouattara began,” said Ibrahim Dembele, a cabinet maker.
The close relationship between Ouattara and Coulibaly was spelt out in the president’s tribute, which referred to him as “my younger brother, my son… a man of great loyalty, dedication and love for his homeland.”
Praise also came from Guillaume Soro, a former rebel chief who lives in self-exile in France to avoid potential jail time back home.
He said he had “shared a long fellowship” with Coulibaly, who like him hailed from the north of the country, and their wives and children had often met up in France.