Between an Angolan ruler’s death and chaos in Sri Lanka

Author: Muniini K. Mulera. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • To die in one’s homeland is an unbearable fate for a ruler worthy of respect by his impoverished subjects. 

Dear Tingasiga:

I am in a summer mood, enjoying much longed-for sunshine. A cheerful smile is permanent on my face. I laugh easily and take news of painful events in stride. I watch human folly with a shrug, unbothered by most things beyond my control. However, I confess that some things still leave my head spinning with kantolooze (vertigo) because of their sheer senselessness.

Boris Johnson’s attempt to hang on to power in Britain as though he was a ruler of some of his kingdom’s former possessions in Africa, left me chuckling. That his end was sealed by the resignation of two Indo-British cabinet ministers triggered momentary disbelief that children of Imperial Britain’s serfs were now setting the agenda at the very centre of Old Blighty.

Then there was the painful end of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s prolonged delusion that he was the best person to rescue Sri Lanka from the mess that he and his brother Mahinda had created because of greed, arrogance, and incompetence. That one left me in a zone between tears and laughter.

The sight of Sri Lankans lounging on the president’s bed and enjoying a dip in the presidential swimming pool was priceless fiction, until I realised it was real.

Economically disempowered villagers in awe of the opulent lifestyle of the man they voted into power in 2019 was akin to the reaction of a hungry kid who discovers his father enjoying a mega-serving of ice cream on the beach. “We are waiting in long queues for kerosene, gas and food, but the Rajapaksas were leading a different life,” Al Premawardene told the BBC.

Equally unbelievable was the conduct of the Sri Lankan army and police. Reporting from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, Anbarasan Ethirajan of the BBC informed us:

“Thousands of men, women and children were attempting to enter the compound and some of the protest organisers were controlling the crowd. Sri Lankan police and special troops just stood in a corner and watched the proceedings quietly.”

Wake me up, Tingasiga. I am trying to imagine a similar scene in a few African countries, randomly selected, you understand, but all I see are rivers of blood, broken bones and corpses of people whose countries’ armies and presidents pledged to protect. Sri Lanka is in chaos, alright. 

The economy is near complete collapse. The country is broke. Its civilian rulers are a bunch of despicable kleptocrats that ought to be resting behind bars.

However, the country has professional military and police services that have, so far, given us hope that there remain a few surviving such institutions in Britain’s former colonies. We await events there this week and pray that that beautiful country recovers from the cult and curse of the Rajapaksas.

Meanwhile, the death of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the former ruler of Angola, on Friday July 8, left me feeling sad. My condolences to his family. However, I cannot but wonder what DNA these African chieftains are made of. How does a man rule a resource rich country for 38 years, amass a multibillion-dollar fortune, while watching the majority of his 32 million fellow citizens living in penury, then fly off to die in Barcelona, Spain like a colonial overlord returning to his homeland?

Dos Santos, a former pseudo-communist, as they all are, did not just go to any top tier medical centre to depart Mother Earth in painless luxury. The man chose the Centro Medico Teknon in Barcelona, Spain, one of the most luxurious health centres in the world, as his final address before yielding to a fate he had been aware of for several years.

Diagnosed with cancer at least nine years ago, Dos Santos had ample time within which he could have built a state-of-the-art hospital for his personal use in Luanda, staffed with the very best specialists in all medical and surgical disciplines, and equipped with the finest and most luxurious technology and furnishings.  Such a hospital would have become available to lesser mortals following the great man’s death, a win-win situation for the king and his subjects. 

However, such thinking is too silly for these immortal occupants of Africa’s state houses to consider. So, it was only natural that Dos Santos would choose a hospital abroad, one befitting his status as the father of his nation, the font of honour, the indispensable one, he whose breath was that of his country. Accuse him of whatever you wish, but one charge you cannot bring is that he lacked taste for the best. Like all communists of note, Dos Santos chose the finest things for himself.

Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, before him Nigeria’s Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Guinea’s Lansana Conte, Patrice Talon of Benin, Felix Houghet Boigny, who had ruled Cote D’Ivoire for 30 years, and Ali Bongo Ondimba, are just a few of Africa’s rulers who preferred to seek help from medicine men in distant lands.

Dos Santos was the latest to join the list of African rulers who died abroad.  The first that I recall was Guinea’s Ahmed Sekou Touré, the great anti-imperialist and anti-neocolonialist who, upon feeling unwell, flew to the USA, checked himself into the world-famous Cleveland Clinic in Ohio for “emergency treatment” of heart disease, and died within hours of arrival. He reportedly left behind 50 children he had sired, along with millions of paupers in one of Africa’s resource-rich countries.

Other rulers and former rulers who died abroad include Julius Kambarage Nyerere (London, England, 1999), Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal of Somaliland (Pretoria, South Africa, 2002), Levi Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia (Paris, France, 2008), Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon (Quiron Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, 2009), Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (Brussels, Belgium, 2012), Malam Bucai Sanha of Guinea Bissau (Paris, France, 2012), Michael Sata of Zambia (London, England, 2014) and Zimbabwe’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe (Singapore, 2019).

Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruler of Togo for 38 years, was the most unfortunate. The poor man died aboard a plane that had evacuated him from his country, just south of Tunis, unable to fully escape from a continent whose health care terrified him. 
Most African rulers and former rulers distrust their own nationals when it comes to health care. To die in one’s homeland is an unbearable fate for a ruler worthy of respect by his impoverished subjects. To share health care under the same roof with the wretched of the earth is frighteningly unthinkable.

Muniini K Mulera is a medical doctor.