The COVID-19 epidemic has taken the lives of several hundred Africans including some of the continent’s prominent figures, and left the people with so many broken hearts and too much pain. Here are brief profiles of some of the victims of the coronavirus pandemic that will always be remembered.
Soul Makossa’ saxophonist
Manu Dibango, a saxophonist from Cameroon whose 1973 international hit “Soul Makossa” was the peak of his six-decades-plus career, died on March 24 of COVID-19 in a hospital in France. He was 86.
Born Emmanuel N’Djoké Dibango in Douala on Dec. 12, 1933, he was sent to Europe at the age of 15 to study classical piano in Paris and Brussels. But he quickly discovered jazz, and within a few years was playing saxophone in clubs. By the early 1960s, he had moved to the newly independent Congo to play in the group African Jazz.
“Soul Makossa” made Dibango one of the first African musicians to have a hit record in the U.S., after Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Recorded in 1972 as the B-side of an anthem for the Cameroonian soccer team, it blended the traditional makossa rhythm with a James Brown-inspired groove.
Dibango would go on to record with American jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, the Jamiacan drum-and-bass duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Mozambican jazz saxopho-nist Moreirac Chonquiça, and scores more, from New York avant-gardists to French rappers.
Former head of Marseille soccer club
Mababa “Pape” Diouf, the first and only black president of a top-tier European soccer club, died on March 31 in Dakar, Senegal, of a coronavirus infection. He was 68 and the first person in Senegal to die from the disease.
Diouf was born on Dec. 18, 1951, in Chad, and held French and Senegalese citizenship. He moved to Marseille when he was 18, studied at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, and then became a sportswriter. By the 1990s, he was an agent for soccer players such as Marcel Desailly, a defensive midfielder who played in France’s 1998 World Cup winning team and won Champions League titles with Olympique Marseille and Italy’s A.C. Milan, and Ivoirien striker Didier Drogba, a star at Olympique Marseille and England’s Chelsea.
“Pape will remain in the hearts of the Marseillais forever, as one of the great architects in the club’s history,” the Olympique de Marseille club in France, which he led from 2005 to 2009, said in a statement.
Dr. Jacob Plange-Rhule
Ghanaian medical scientist
Dr. Jacob Plange-Rhule, a renowned Ghanaian physician and medical researcher, died of COVID-19 on April 10 at the University of Ghana Medical Centre in Accra. He was 63.
Educated at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and earning a Ph.D. in renal physiology from the Victorian University in Manchester, U.K., Dr. Plange-Rhule taught Ghanaian physicians for more than 20 years, as chair of the Department of Physiology at the School of Medical Sciences in Kumasi. He also founded the Hypertension and Renal Clinic at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital and had overseen its operations for two decades. He was the rector of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Chief of Staff to Nigeria’s president
Abba Kyari, chief of staff to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, died from a COVID-19 infection on April 17, aged 67. He had tested positive for the virus after returning from Germany in March.
Kyari, who was appointed to the post in 2015, was widely described as the second most powerful figure in Nigeria’s government, controlling access to President Buhari. Posting on Twitter on April 18, Buhari called him “my dearest friend” and said he “acted forcefully as a crucial gatekeeper to the presidency, ensuring no one – whether minister or governor – had access beyond another.”
Born in the state of Borno in Nigeria’s northeast, he received a degree in sociology from Warwick University in the United Kingdom and a law degree from Cambridge.
Former President of Congo
Jacques Joaquim Yhombi Opango, president of the Republic of Congo from 1977 to 1979 and a longtime figure in the country’s turbulent politics, died in Paris on March 30 of coronavirus. He was 81.
Born in the northern Cuvette region in 1939, Yhombi Opango was an army officer who became the military’s chief of staff under President Marien Ngouabi. He succeeded to the presidency after Ngouabi was assassinated in February 1977. Two years later, he was ousted by Denis Sassou Nguesso, who had him jailed from 1987 to 1990 on charges of plotting a coup.
Yhombi Opango ran for president again in 1992 after democracy was restored, but finished a distant sixth. The victor, President Pascal Lissouba, named him prime minister in 1994. He served for two years, and went into exile in France in 1997 after a civil war led to Sassou Nguesso ousting Lissouba.
While in exile, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to prison on charges that he and Lissouba had embezzled oil revenues.
Yhombi Opango returned to Congo when amnesty was granted in 2007, but spent much of his life after that in France receiving medical treatment.
Zimbabwe talk-show host
Zororo Makamba, a 30-year-old radio, TV, and Internet talk-show host and commentator, became the first person in Zimbabwe to die of COVID-19 on March 23.
Born into one of the country’s most prominent and wealthy families, he was the host and executive producer of the Internet political opinion show Point of View with Zororo Makamba, which he launched in February 2018 after receiving a master’s degree in producing from the New York Film Academy. His earlier TV talk show, Tonight with Zororo, won a National Arts Merits Award in 2016 for Outstanding Screen Production (Television).
He also broadcast a YouTube commentary show called State of the Nation, covering subjects like climate change, Harare’s water shortages, and why Zimbabwe should finance conservation efforts by selling the tusks of naturally deceased elephants.
South African AIDS researcher
Gita Ramjee, a South African scientist acclaimed for her work on preventing HIV infection and AIDS, died from COVID-19 on March 31 in a hospital in Durban. She was 64.
Director of the South African Medical Research Council’s HIV Prevention Research Unit for the past 18 years, Ramjee was best known for her research on microbicides, including a project on vaginal microbicides for the prevention of HIV among sex workers.
In 2018, she received a lifetime achievement award for HIV prevention and the Outstanding Female Scientist award from the European Development Clinical Trials Partnerships for her work in finding new HIV-prevention methods.