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2019’s Notable Deaths – Mugabe, Essebsi, DJ Arafat, Jawara, Mtukudzi Etc.

Death played a newsy role across Africa in 2019 as it always has in the years gone past. Last year we profiled about seven high profile deaths that shook the continent.

From the death in early 2018 of South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela through to the passing of Shehu Shagari, Nigeria’s first executive president late in the year.

From north through to West and South Africa, prominent persons died in the course of the year along with the hundreds if not thousands that died from humanitarian disasters, armed conflict, diseases (Ebola, Malaria, Measles) even from state brutality in some cases.

Mugabe to Mtukudzi, perhaps Zimbabwe was one of the worse hit in 2019 along with Tunisia that lost a sitting and an exiled president. Gambia lost a former president and the music industry across Francophone Africa lost DJ Arafat. Who else made our list of 2019 deaths?

January: Oliver Mtukudzi

2019 kicked off on a rather sad note for Africa but especially for Zimbabwe with the death of Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. Multiple local media portals reported his demise on Wednesday, January 23.

The state-owned Herald said he was 66. Mtukudzi died after a long diabetes battle. He was pronounced dead at the Avenues Clinic in the capital, Harare.

He was a big deal especially with his guitar. One of his high-profile performances last year was during the burial of former Prime Minister veteran opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The deceased was born 22 September 1952 in Highfield area of Harare. Aside music, he was a businessman, philanthropist, human rights activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Southern Africa Region.

Mugabe passes

Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe died aged 95, the country’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on Twitter in September. Mugabe died in Singapore, where he often received medical treatment in recent years.

“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” a post on Mnangagwa’s official presidential Twitter account said.


Mugabe was born in 1924. He grew up and qualified as a teacher by training. In 1964, he was imprisoned by Rhodesian government, he fought a guerilla war that culminated in independence.

Three decades plus later, November 2017, Mugabe loses an intra-party succession battle as the army intervenes and forces him to step down at a time he preferred his wife to take over the reins. His dismissed vice-president at the time returned from exile to take over.

Dawda Jawara goes home

First president of The Gambia, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, died in August at the age of 95. President Adama Barrow confirmed the incident on his social media handles describing the late president’s passing as “indeed a great loss to the country in particular and humanity in general.”

Jawara is celebrated in the tiny West African nation as an independence hero having led the country’s liberation from British rule in 1965.

He first served as Gambian Prime Minister between 1965 and 1970 before he was democratically elected as President. He was ousted in 1994 in a bloodless coup led by then 23-year-old Yahya Jammeh.

After his overthrow in 1994, Jawara left the country to the United Kingdom and only returned in 2002. Jammeh became the second President of the Gambia, whiles his successor, Adama Barrow is the third.

Jammeh, now exiled in Equatorial Guinea, will go on to transit from a military ruler to a civilian leader under the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, (APRC). He ruled the country for 22 years winning 4 elections during the period.

Essebsi dies after announcing retirement

Tunisia’s first post-Arab Spring president Beji Caid Essebsi died in July, a statement from the presidency confirmed. Essebsi, who was 92 years old, was taken to a military hospital in the capital Tunis where he died.

A leading figure in the country’s fortunes since 2011, Essebsi was hospitalized late June and spent a week in hospital after suffering what authorities described as a severe health crisis.

“On Thursday morning, the President of the Republic died at the military hospital in Tunis.. The burial ceremony will be announced later,” the presidency said in statement at the time.

Essebsi has been a prominent figure in Tunisia since the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which was followed by uprisings against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East, including in nearby Libya and Egypt.

The country has since voted in a new president in the person of former varsity professor Kais Saied.

Ex Tunisian leader dies in exile

Tunisia’s exiled former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali died in exile aged 83 in September, his family confirmed.

Before his ouster in 2011, Ben Ali led the North African country for 23 years and was credited with delivering stability and some economic prosperity. But he received widespread criticism for suppressing political freedoms and for widespread corruption.

His ouster was brought on by mass street protests that went ahead to trigger a number of “overthrows” in what became known as the Arab Spring. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he lived till his death.

Incidentally, he had announced an imminent return months before his death. His immediate successor was Beji Caid Essebsi who died in July after announcing that he was not going to seek another term in office.

Francophone Africa mourns Arafat

It was a death that hit Ivory Coast but whose impact extended across much of Francophone Africa. The death of famed music icon, DJ Arafat.

The 33-year-old died in August killed in a motorcycle accident in the capital Abidjan. He was credited as the originator of the coupé-décalé genre of music.

DJ Arafat, his real name Houon Ange Didier, received a big burial that was preceded by a concert attended by heavyweights in African music among others Fally Ipupa, Maître Gims, Davido, Sidiki Diabaté and Koffi Olomide.

The national stadium was given by government for the purpose of the funeral following an online petition but the funeral turned sour when some fans forcibly open the coffin at the final burial grounds. Police have since arrested about 11 offenders.

Tshisekedi and Savimbi finally laid to rest

The southern Africa region held two burials on Saturday June 1, 2019 for two main opposition members of two neighbouring countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and Angola.

In the case of the DRC, the burial had to do with its biggest opposition figure in the last three decades, Etienne Tshisekedi whose arrival back in the country was occasioned by the rise to the presidency of his son, Felix.

Over in Angola, veteran opposition member Jonas Savimbi was finally given a burial in his home village as per his wishes, a move that analysts say gives the family closure since he was killed by state actors in 2002.

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