Reflections

Shaming African Leadership

By Mpuga Rukidi, Uganda:

There is a story that ran in the international press a while back, and it was about Africa. The story was about the Tanzanian president, Jakaya Mrisho Kiwkwete. He had been ill and, like any self respecting African president, had flown to a foreign country to get treatment. Perfect thing to do. He chose America. Nothing wrong with that. A picture of him on his bed, with cannulas and tubes running from him flashed on our screens and were all over the internet. He seemed casual, unbothered by anything.

The picture troubled me.  A friend asked me what the cause of my annoyance was. I looked at him with disgust. Did it not seem obvious that the president was bringing the image of Africa into disrepute? Did he not realise that he was portraying presidents as mortal souls, as souls which, just like any other, suffer from common ailments and all? Was he not really erasing the divinity of the African president? Jakaya Kikwete didn't know that one African president refused anesthetics before an operation because that would jeaopardise his immortality.

A fable thus goes in East Africa: at a ceremony in Kampala, President Museveni asked Benjamin Mkapa, then president of Tanzania, what his future plan was. The guest, unaware where this was meant to go, replied that he planned to retire and find something to make his retirement interesting, pretty much like Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's founding father had done. It is said his host stopped just short of giving him a kick in his backside. How could he talk of retiring? Did he not realise that presidents were divine, much like the legendary Bachwezi who did not die, but just disappeared when their time came? Did he not know, added the host, that in any African country, it is only the presidents that had brains and thought for their people, and did he not know also that as president, he was immortal and had nowhere to go and that his only destiny was to lead the people because he was divine? The guest is said to have left prematurely. True to his word, Mr. Mkapa left the presidency when his time came. His host has been around for quite a bit.

A monarch of one of Uganda’s kingdoms, who ascended to the throne long after the present had been the undisputed visionary in Uganda, is now a big man, taller than the president. The monarch ascended the throne as a toddler, and on his coronation was busy playing with toys, unbothered by the president, who was chief guest. A picture taken recently of the two, shows the toddler as a giant of a man, dwarfing the chief guest by several heads. But that's the point. The leader never grows, never dies, and never falls sick. It is little wonder that in all their years in power my president and Uncle Bob of Zim have never fallen sick. They are immortal. All serious African presidents are. Jakaya Kikwete is not. And he proved it a couple of months back.

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