Mali’s opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, considered a leading contender in 2022 elections, has died in France after contracting coronavirus.
The 71-year-old died two months after his release from lengthy captivity by Islamist insurgents.
“The doctors did everything to keep him alive, but that’s the way of God’s will,” his eldest son Bocar said.
The news throws Malian politics into new uncertainty. Cissé was the runner-up in the past three presidential elections and many thought he had the best chances of finally winning in 2022.
He was taken hostage by jihadists in March while campaigning for legislative elections in his hometown of Niafunke in northern Mali. He was abducted by a group affiliated with al-Qaida.
Amid public pressure, the Malian government obtained his liberation in October, along with that of French and Italian hostages in exchange for the release of some 200 jihadists from Malian prisons.
Mali’s interim leader Sem Ba N’Daw expressed his condolences to Cisse’s family and supporters on Friday, saying millions of Malians “are in shock” at the news. Describing a meeting with Cisse after he was freed, he said Cisse’s “optimism had remained intact,” and said “the country still needed his experience and wisdom to face today’s challenges.”
No immediate funeral plans have been announced.