Flash back: African president and illness

African presidents and long life
By Bivan Saluseki
Sun 28 Mar. 2010, 04:01 CAT   [3274 Reads, 0 Comment(s)]
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HAVE you ever wondered why presidents in Africa ‘don’t fall sick’? They ‘don’t die’ or if they are seriously sick their health is a closely guarded secret? Don’t worry, because even in death, they remain as mysterious as they were when alive. In some you see the telltale signs of lunacy and sometimes terminal illness but they cannot be subjected to tests and you don’t get to talk about it. You only get to know that they had heart or liver problems, a pounding headache or an ‘athletic’ tummy after they ‘leave’ office.
I will give you a number of examples of how Africans edify their presidents and prime ministers.
They are actually gods, immortal and invisible.
Look at Nigeria. ‘President’ Umaru Yar’Adua’s state of health has remained a tightly guarded secret. Just the other day, we were being told even the acting president Goodluck Jonathan has not been allowed to see the President. This is despite Yar’Adua’s having come in the still of the night when only spooks and thieves are allowed to wander.
It is not clear whether Yar’Adua is dead or alive. And as a brazen challenge, the acting president has even gone ahead to dissolve Yar’Adua’s cabinet. Can you imagine, even Yar’Adua’s mother and siblings – of all the people – are not aware of his state!
Apparently, Nigeria doesn’t seem to learn lessons from the past. Anyway Africans still don’t learn a lesson. That is why the only credible information people have about former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s last moments on earth is that he died of Viagra overdose in the arms of two prostitutes. All because of rumour mills left grinding for a long time.
There is precedence in Nigeria. In October 1965, the then President, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe went abroad for medical treatment and he handed power over to the President of the Senate, who was next in hierarchy and was sworn-in as acting president.
Everywhere you go, typical African ruler is infallible. Here at home the pages of history haven’t been turned. President Mwanawasa’s health and death was a matter of guesswork. Reports of his death might have been exaggerated at first but even after the announcement of his death by then vice-president now President Rupiah Banda, people still thought the man had died a long time previously. There are some who simply don’t believe Levy’s date of death! The rumour mills were left to spin in overdrive because of the absence of facts.
To these chief executive officers of African countries, medical fitness is supposed to be kept secret and a nation guessing. After all, they do not suffer the misfortunes of us lesser mortals.
Enter Guinea. Former Guinean president died after a long illness. But only a few days before his death, Lasana Conté’s entourage assured everyone of his good health. Then Gabon. There were rumours that the late Gabonese president, Omar Bongo Ondimba, was suffering from a long illness but officials called it a “slight” health discomfort.
The health of African presidents is shrouded in mystery. We still remember Mamadou Tandja of Niger, Idriss Deby Itno of Tchad. In Africa, officially all presidents are in very good shape. Truth! As white as black!
Remember this, a couple of days before his death, Lasana Conté was supposedly busily working and still carrying out state functions. Guinean communication minister, Tibou Kamara, even appeared on national television to deny rumours surrounding the president’s death but he had failed to deny the fact that Lasana Conté had been sent to Havana, Cuba, for intensive medical care.
The president’s state of health grew worse during his final years in office.
However, during his country’s 2003 presidential elections, Lasana Conté invented a new way, worthy of an African leader, of voting. Bed-ridden and incapable of walking, the ballot box was taken to him… in his car ! A diabetic, Mr. Conté’s health got worse after he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006, according to the BBC.
African media has no right to talk about issues concerning a president’s health. Sick rulers are not only found in Africa. François Mittérrand, the former French president, ruled France for 14 years despite the fact that he suffered from a cancer. However, in Africa, presidents tend to personify power itself… their state of health thus becomes reflection of their ability to govern. The attorney general, of the appeal court in the Littoral province of Cameroon, told Pius Njawé, director of the daily magazine, Messager, during one of his numerous law suits : “Mr. Njawé, even if the president of the country is sick, you are to say that he is in perfect shape !”
There is a certain country, I won’t mention, where writing on the president’s health is a criminal offence. You actually must seek clearance from the state even if you see him shaking violently!
Egypt is another example. Only one week since the Egyptian government issued photos and a video showing President Hosni Mubarak in what was apparently post-operation recovery mode, the Egyptian blogosphere and a few commentators on Twitter have begun demanding a new statement from the government on the president’s health. One Twitter user wrote that the government should issue another statement or video of the president in order to allay fears of the president’s health. According to the German doctors, President Mubarak is recovering in a normal manner after a surgery. The president had portions of his gall bladder removed after doctors said they discovered a malignant tumor.
In Africa, it seems the presidency is mystified. You talk about it at your own peril. The President’s health and the way the information is managed and the failure to ensure an effective, amicable and prompt transfer of power once the inevitable happens over heat the polity. Hiding our presidents’ state of health simply shows us how vulnerable our systems are.
Only recently, courtesy of the American people, we know of Barrack Obama’s health after his medical record was published for the Americans. We know for instance that he hasn’t stopped smoking unless he stopped today.
The problems lies in lack of systems and transparency in our leadership structures. Absolute power is vested in one man who has to be worshiped by hangers-on. To borrow Zambian minister Michael Kaingu’s metaphor, it’s all about dog-loyalty. We are expected to be loyal to our leaders in sickness and in death, to see no evil and hear no evil.
Courtesy of the Post newspaper

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