Throughout Africa’s history, there have been several presidents who have died while in office. Some of these deaths have been the result of natural causes, while others have been the result of assassination or other violent means. In this article, we will discuss some of the African presidents who have died while in office and the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
African Presidents Who Have Died in Office
Sylvanus Olympio (1963: Togo)
Sylvanus Épiphanio Olympio was a Togolese politician who served as prime minister, and then president, of Togo from 1958 until his assassination in 1963 in a coup d’état.
Olympio’s body was discovered by the U.S. Ambassador Leon B. Poullada three feet from the door to the U.S. Embassy. It was the first coup d’état in the French and British colonies in Africa that achieved independence in the 1950s and 1960s.
Léon M’ba (1967: Gabon)
Gabriel Léon M’ba was a Gabonese politician who served as both the first Prime Minister (1959–1961) and President (1961–1967) of Gabon.
On 28 November 1967, just days after he took his presidential oath at the Gabonese embassy, M’ba died of cancer in Paris, where he had been treated since August of that year.
Gamal Abdel Nasser (1970: Egypt)
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein was an Egyptian politician who served as the second president of Egypt from 1954 until his death in 1970. He died of a heart attack.
William Tubman (1971: Liberia)
William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman was a Liberian politician. He was the 19th President of Liberia and the longest-serving president in the country’s history, serving from his election in 1944 until his death in 1971.
François Tombalbaye (1975: Chad)
François Tombalbaye was a Chadian teacher and a trade union activist who served as the first President of Chad after its independence on 11 August 1960. He ruled as a dictator until his deposition and assassination by members of the Chadian military in 1975.
Richard Ratsimandrava (1975: Madagascar)
Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava was President of Madagascar for six days in February 1975. His assassination in 1975 led to a civil war.
Murtala Mohammed (1976: Nigeria)
Murtala Ramat Muhammed was a Nigerian general who led the Northern counter-coup forces in overthrowing the Republic of Nigeria and featured prominently during the Nigerian Civil War and thereafter ruled over Nigeria from 30 July 1975 until his assassination on 13 February 1976.
Marien Ngouabi (1977: Congo-Brazzaville)
Marien Ngouabi was the third President of the Republic of the Congo from January 1, 1969, to March 18, 1977.
On March 18, 1977, at 14:30 hours, President Ngouabi was assassinated.
Houari Boumediene (1978: Algeria)
Houari Boumédiène served as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Algeria from 19 June 1965 until 12 December 1976 and thereafter as the second President of Algeria until his death in 1978. He died of a rare blood disease.
Jomo Kenyatta (1978: Kenya)
Jomo Kenyatta was a Kenyan anti-colonial activist and politician who governed Kenya as its Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964 and then as its first President from 1964 to his death in 1978. He died of a heart attack.
Nicolaas Johannes (1978: South Africa)
Nicolaas Johannes was South Africa’s third state president from 1975 until 1978, when he died of a heart attack.
Francisco Mendes (1978: Guinea Bissau)
Francisco Mendes was a Bissau-Guinean politician. He was the country’s first Prime Minister and held that position from September 24, 1973 until his fatal car accident under suspicious circumstances on July 7, 1978.
Agostinho Neto (1979: Angola)
António Agostinho Neto was an Angolan politician and poet. He served as the 1st President of Angola.
Agostinho Neto died on September 10, 1979 in Moscow, USSR after surgery for cancer and hepatitis.
William Tolbert (1980: Liberia)
William Richard Tolbert Jr. was the 20th President of Liberia, a position he held from 1971 until 1980, when he was killed in a coup d’état led by Samuel Doe.
Seretse Khama (1980: Botswana)
Sir Seretse Khama, was a Botswana politician who served as the first President of Botswana, a post he held from 1966 to his death in 1980.
In June 1980, while receiving treatment in London, Khama was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He returned home after it was determined that no cure was possible.
Khama died in his sleep on 13 July 1980 in the presence of his wife in Botswana.
Anwar Sadat (1981: Egypt)
Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat was an Egyptian politician who served as the third president of Egypt, from 15 October 1970 until his assassination by fundamentalist army officers on 6 October 1981.
Ahmed Sékou Touré (1984: Guinea)
Ahmed Sékou Touré was a Guinean political leader and African statesman who became the first president of Guinea, serving from 1958 until his death in 1984. Touré died of an apparent heart attack on 26 March 1984 while undergoing cardiac treatment at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, for emergency heart surgery.
Samora Machel (1986: Mozambique)
Samora Moisés Machel was a Mozambican military commander and political leader. A socialist in the tradition of Marxism–Leninism, he served as the first President of Mozambique from the country’s independence in 1975. Machel died in office in 1986 when his presidential aircraft crashed near the Mozambican-South African border.
Seyni Kountché (1987: Niger)
Seyni Kountché was a Nigerien military officer who led a 1974 coup d’état that deposed the government of Niger’s first president, Hamani Diori. He ruled the country as military head of state from 1974 to 1987. Kountché’s health deteriorated in late 1986 and it continued to worsen during 1987. He died at a Paris hospital of a brain tumor on 10 November 1987.
Thomas Sankara (1987: Burkina Faso)
Thomas Sankara was a Burkinabé military officer, Marxist revolutionary, and pan-Africanist President of Burkina Faso from his coup in 1983 to his deposition and murder in 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara.
On 15 October 1987, Sankara was killed by an armed group with twelve other officials in a coup d’état organized by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré. When accounting for his overthrow, Compaoré stated that Sankara jeopardized foreign relations with former colonial power France.
Samuel Doe (1990: Liberia)
Samuel Doe was a Liberian politician who served as the Liberian leader from 1980 to 1990, first as a military leader and later as a civilian. While a master sergeant in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Doe staged a violent coup d’etat in April 1980 that left him de facto head of state. During the coup, then president William Tolbert, and much of the True Whig Party leadership were executed. Doe then established the People’s Redemption Council, assuming the rank of general.
A civil war began in December 1989, when rebels entered Liberia through Ivory Coast, capturing and overthrowing Doe on 9 September 1990. He was tortured during interrogation and murdered by his conqueror, Prince Johnson, and one-time ally of Charles Taylor, in an internationally televised display.
Melchior Ndadaye (1993: Burundi)
Melchior Ndadaye was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi after winning the landmark 1993 election. After only three months in office, he was assassinated amidst a failed military coup in October 1993. His assassination sparked an array of brutal tit-for-tat massacres between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, and ultimately sparked the decade-long Burundi Civil War.
Félix Houphouët-Boigny (1993: Côte d’Ivoire)
Félix Houphouët-Boigny affectionately called Papa Houphouët or Le Vieux (“The Old One”), was the first president of Ivory Coast, serving from 1960 until his death in 1993. Prostate cancer.
Cyprien Ntaryamira (1994: Burundi)
Cyprien Ntaryamira was a Burundian politician who served as President of Burundi from 5 February 1994 until his death two months later. but in October Tutsi soldiers killed the president and other top officials in an attempted coup.
Juvénal Habyarimana (1994: Rwanda)
Juvénal Habyarimana was a Rwandan politician and military officer who served as the second president of Rwanda, from 1973 until 1994 when his plane was shot down His assassination ignited ethnic tensions in the region and helped spark the Rwandan genocide.
Sani Abacha (1998: Nigeria)
Sani Abacha was a Nigerian military general who served as the military head of state of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998.
On 8 June 1998, Abacha died in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja. He was buried on the same day according to Muslim tradition and without an autopsy. The government identified the cause of death as a sudden heart attack.
Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara (1999: Niger)
General Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara was a military officer and diplomat in Niger who ruled the country until his assassination during the military coup of April 1999.
Laurent-Désiré Kabila (2001: D.R Congo)
Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was a Congolese revolutionary and politician who served as the third President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 17, 1997, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, until his assassination on January 16, 2001. 61
Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal (2002: Somaliland)
Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal was a Somali politician who served as the President of Somaliland from 1993 to his death in 2002.
Egal died on May 3, 2002 in Pretoria, South Africa while undergoing surgery at a military hospital.
Gnassingbé Eyadéma (2005: Togo)
Gnassingbé Eyadéma was the president of Togo from 1967 until his death in 2005, At the time of his death, Eyadéma was the longest-serving ruler in Africa. 69
On 5 February 2005, Eyadéma died on board a plane 250 km south of Tunis, Tunisia. He died “as he was being evacuated for emergency treatment abroad”, according to a government statement
Levy Mwanawasa (2008: Zambia)
Levy Patrick Mwanawasa was the third president of Zambia. He served as president from January 2002 until his death in August 2008. Mwanawasa is credited for having initiated a campaign to rid the corruption situation in Zambia during his term. He is the first President of Zambia to die in office. 59
Lansana Conté (2008: Guinea)
Lansana Conté was a Guinean politician and military official who served as the second President of Guinea, from 3 April 1984 until his death on 22 December 2008. His cause of death was not specified.
Omar Bongo (2009: Gabon)
El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba was a Gabonese politician who was the second President of Gabon for 42 years, from 1967 until his death in 2009. According to sources, Bongo died in Spain of complications from advanced cancer.
João Bernardo Vieira (2009: Guinea-Bissau)
João Bernardo Vieira was a Bissau-Guinean politician who was the President of Guinea-Bissau from 1980 to 1999. Vieira was killed by soldiers on 2 March 2009, apparently in retaliation for a bomb blast that killed Guinea-Bissau’s military chief General
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (2010: Nigeria)
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was a Nigerian politician who was the President of Nigeria from 2007 to 2010.
In 2009, Yar’Adua left for Saudi Arabia to receive treatment for pericarditis. He returned to Nigeria on 24 February 2010, where he died on 5 May.
Muammar Gaddafi (2011: Libya)
Muammar al-Gaddafi was a Libyan revolutionary, politician and political theorist. Who ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011 when he was brutally killed by rebels.
Malam Bacai Sanhá (2012: Guinea-Bissau)
Malam Bacai Sanhá was a Guinea-Bissau politician who was President of Guinea-Bissau from 8 September 2009 to 9 January 2012. Sanhá died on the morning of 9 January 2012, in Paris at the age of 64.
Bingu wa Mutharika (2012: Malawi)
Bingu wa Mutharika was a Malawian politician and economist who was President of Malawi from May 2004 until his death in April 2012. He died in office from a cardiac arrest on 5 April 2012, at age 78.
John Atta Mills (2012: Ghana)
John Atta Mills was a Ghanaian politician and legal scholar who served as President of Ghana from 2009 until his death in 2012. Throat cancer He was the first Ghanaian head of state to die in office.
Michael Sata (2014: Zambia)
Michael Charles Chilufya Sata was a Zambian politician who was the fifth president of Zambia, from 23 September 2011 until his death on 28 October 2014. Undisclosed illness.
Beji Caid Essebsi (2019: Tunisia)
Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi was a Tunisian statesman who was the president of Tunisia from 31 December 2014 until his death on 25 July 2019.
Pierre Nkurunziza (2020: Burundi)
Pierre Nkurunziza was a Burundian politician who served as the ninth president of Burundi for almost 15 years from August 2005 until his death in June 2020. He died of a heart attack on 8 June 2020 shortly before the official end of his term. He was the longest-ruling president in Burundian history.
John Magufuli (2021: Tanzania)
John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was the fifth president of Tanzania, serving from 2015 until his death in 2021 of Illness – heart condition & suspected COVID-19
He was the only President of Tanzania to die in office.
Idriss Déby (2021: Chad)
Idriss Déby was a Chadian politician, military officer, and head of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement, who was the president of Chad from 1990 until his death at the hands of militant forces when commanding troops on the front in 2021.
African Prime Ministers Who Died in Office
These are African prime ministers who died while in office
Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom (1958: South Africa)
Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom was the fifth prime minister of South Africa from 30 November 1954 to his death on 24 August 1958.
Barthélemy Boganda (1959: Central African Republic)
Barthélemy Boganda was the leading nationalist politician from what is now the Central African Republic, He served as the first Prime Minister of the Central African Republic autonomous territory from 1958 – 1959 when he was killed in a mysterious plane crash on 29 March 1959, while en route to Bangui. Experts found a trace of explosives in the plane’s wreckage, but revelation of this detail was withheld. Although those responsible for the crash were never identified, people have suspected the French secret service, and even Boganda’s wife, of being involved.
Abebe Aregai (1960: Ethiopia)
Ras Abebe Aregai was an Ethiopian military commander who, during the Italian occupation, led a group of resistance fighters that operated in Menz and Shewa. The British IWM labeled Abebe “one of the bravest men in the modern world.” He later served as Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 27 November 1957 until his death. He was a victim of the unsuccessful 1960 Ethiopian coup.
Louis Rwagasore (1961: Rwanda)
Louis Rwagasore was a Burundian prince and politician who served as Prime Minister of Burundi from 28 September 1961 until his assassination two weeks later.
On 13 October 1961, Rwagasore was assassinated while dining outdoors with friends and his cabinet members at the Hotel Tanganyika in Usumbura. He was killed by a single gunshot wound to the throat.
Milton Margai (1964: Sierra Leone)
Sir Milton Margai was a Sierra Leonean doctor and politician who served as the country’s head of government from 1954 until his death in 1964
Pierre Ngendandumwe (1965: Burundi)
Pierre Ngendandumwe served as prime minister until 6 April 1964 and then became prime minister again on 7 January 1965, serving until his death. Eight days after beginning his second term, he was assassinated by a Rwandan Tutsi refugee.
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1966: Nigeria)
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a Nigerian politician who served as the first and only Prime Minister of Nigeria upon independence. He was overthrown and murdered in a military coup on 15 January 1966, as were many other leaders, including his old companion Sir Ahmadu Bello.
Hendrik Verwoerd (1966: South Africa)
Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd was a South African politician. He is commonly regarded as the architect of Apartheid.
On 6 September 1966, Verwoerd was assassinated in Cape Town, in South Africa’s House of Assembly by a parliamentary messenger. He was stabbed in the neck and chest four times before being subdued by other members of the Assembly. Four members of Parliament who were also trained doctors rushed to the aid of Verwoerd and started administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Verwoerd was rushed to Groote Schuur Hospital, but was pronounced dead upon arrival.
Abdirashid Ali Shermarke (1969: Somalia)
Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was Prime Minister of Somali Republic from July 12, 1960, to June 14, 1964, and President of Somali Republic from July 6, 1967, until his assassination on October 15, 1969. He was the father of Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.
He was shot dead by one of his own bodyguard on October 15, 1969, while paying an official visit to the northern town of Las Anod.
Joël Rakotomalala (1976: Madagascar)
Joël Rakotomalala was a Malagasy military officer and politician was Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar from 13 January 1976 to his death. He died in the accident of an Aérospatiale Alouette III transport helicopter during a short flight with the chief of staff Alphonse Rakotonirainy on 30 July 1976.
Maphevu Dlamini (1979: Swaziland)
Maphevu Harry Dlamini was Prime Minister of Swaziland from 17 March 1976 until his death on 25 October 1979.
Edward Sokoine (1984: Tanzania)
Edward Moringe Sokoine was a Tanzanian politician who served two terms as Prime Minister of Tanzania, from 13 February 1977 to 7 November 1980 and again from 24 February 1983 to 12 April 1984.
Sokoine died on 12 April 1984 at the age of 45 in Morogoro when his car collided with another vehicle on the road from Dodoma to Dar es Salaam.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana (1994: Rwanda)
Agathe Uwilingiyimana was a Rwandan political figure. She served as Prime Minister of Rwanda and acting president from 18 July 1993 until her assassination on 7 April 1994, during the opening stages of the Rwandan genocide.
Pascal Yoadimnadji (2007: Chad)
Pascal Yoadimnadji was a Chadian politician. He was Prime Minister of Chad from February 2005 to his death in February 2007. On February 21, 2007, Yoadimnadji suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma, and he was flown to France for medical treatment. He died of a brain hemorrhage on February 23 at a hospital in Paris.
Meles Zenawi (2012: Ethiopia)
Meles Zenawi Asres was an Ethiopian soldier and politician who ruled Ethiopia as president from 1991 to 1995 and as prime minister from 1995 until his death in 2012. On 20 August, Meles Zenawi died after contracting an infection in Belgium.
Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini (2020: Eswatini)
Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini was a Swazi business executive who served as the tenth prime minister of Eswatini, holding the office from October 2018 until his death on 13 December 2020. Dlamini suffered from diabetes, and tested positive for COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Eswatini on 15 November 2020.
Amadou Gon Coulibaly (2020: Ivory Coast)
Amadou Gon Coulibaly was an Ivorian politician who served as Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire from January 2017 until his death in July 2020.
Coulibaly underwent heart surgery in 2012. He went to France on 2 May 2020, for a heart exam and rest, then returned to Ivory Coast on 2 July. On 8 July, he became unwell during a weekly cabinet meeting and was taken to a hospital where he died. He was 61 years old.
Hamed Bakayoko (2021: Ivory Coast)
Hamed Bakayoko (8 March 1965 – 10 March 2021) was an Ivorian politician who served as Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire from 8 July 2020 until his death on 10 March 2021 Illness – malaria, cancer & suspected COVID-19.