Mathieu Kerekou (1933 – 2015)
The former President of Benin and one of the world’s longest serving political leaders, Mathieu Kerekou, died on October 14th at the age of 82.
He was credited with helping to usher in multi-party democracy in Africa, having had two spells as leader, the first as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972, but he conceded defeat to Nicephore Soglo in the 1991 election after accepting the idea of multi-party democracy. Kerekou returned to power in 1996 in a democratic election, and won a second and final five-year term in 2001.
Kerekou abandoned Marxist-Leninist politics as the official ideology in Benin in 1989, following global trends and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Born into the-then French colony Dahomey, Kerekou attended military school in Mali and Senegal, joined the French military and became the ‘aide-de-camp’ of Dahomey’s first President Hubert Maga. (BBC News Online 15/10; Daily Nation 15/10)
Gamal El-Ghitani (1945 – 2015)
El-Ghitani, a renowned Egyptian novelist and journalist, died on October 18th aged 70 at Al-Jala Military Hospital in Cairo after health complications that had rendered him in a coma for over three months. His books, which included the widely praised novel Zayni Barakat, have been translated into a number of languages, and he made great efforts to promote Arab literary culture, founding the literary magazine Gallery 68.
Originally trained to be a carpet designer, in 1969 he switched careers and became a journalist for the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar al-Yawm. In 1993, Ghitani founded and headed Akhbar Al-Adab (Literature News), one of Egypt’s literary newspapers. In 2015, he won the Nile Award for Literature, the highest literary honour granted by the Egyptian government.
Ghitani, a firm supporter of the army since the fall of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was one of Egypt’s most acclaimed writers. In a statement, the presidency said Egypt and the Arab world had lost “a senior cultural figure who had contributed to enriching the cultural life in Egypt with his unique style and contemporary vision”. (AhramOnline 18/10; the Independent 19/10)