With over 40 years of political experience, Jacques Joachim Yhombi-Opango was a Congolese army officer turned politician. He became Congo-Brazzaville’s first general and went on to lead the People’s Republic of Congo as Head of State from 1977 to 1979.
The 81-year-old had his fair share of highs and lows in the Congolese political scene. This began with his appointment as Chief of Army Staff under President Marien Ngouabi. He belonged to the right-wing of the ruling Congolese Labour Party (PCT) and was a member of the party’s Central Committee in 1972. After a failed coup attempt by the party’s left-wing, he was promoted from Major to Colonel in 1973. Subsequently, he was made Secretary-General of the Council then Council of State delegate in charge of Defence in 1974.
Later President Ngouabi was assassinated in 1977 resulting in Yhombi-Opango replacing him as Head of State. He was forced to resign in 1979 and was detained for several years by his successor, President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Also, he was cast out of the PCT, stripped of his property and demoted from the rank of Major to Private. Eventually, after being elected for the second term, President Nguesso released Yhombi-Opango in 1984 to uphold national interest and peace.
He was rearrested in 1987 after being implicated in the plotting of a coup along with other officers. Once again, Nguesso announced his release amongst others during the 30th anniversary of Congolese Independence in 1990.
Yhombi-Opango emerged as the candidate of his party, the Rally for Democracy and Development (RDD), for the 1992 presidential election. After losing the election, he allied with President Pascal Lissouba and his party during the 1993 parliamentary elections. This resulted in his appointment, resignation, reappointment and resignation as Prime Minister.
In 1997, Nguesso visited Owambo, Yhombi-Opango’s political stronghold and it led to a civil war. The civil war led to President Lisouba’s removal from office. Since Yhombi-Opango was on Lissouba’s side during the civil war, they both fled into exile after Nguesso’s victory in the war. Even in exile, he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment on counts of embezzlement and money laundering. Yhombi-Opango spent his days in exile in Cote d’Ivoire and France.
He returned to Congo Brazzaville amidst crowds of cheering supporters in 2007 and 2013 after amnesty was granted to him. However, he returned to France where he died of COVID-19 after having previous medical conditions.