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Heads with stories

I came across two pieces of news about former African heads of state that evoked some conflicting thoughts in my mind. News broke out about the passing of Robert Mugabe, first head of state of the Zimbabwean nation and a new documentary about the fifth and final wife of Idi Amin, who was former president of Uganda, is to be released to the public soon.

Let me first say a thing or two about the documentary about Sarah Kyolaba, Idi Amin’s fifth and last wife, who remained married to him although estranged until his death, and her lover who was a famous Ugandan singer at the time. The documentary tells the story of the love triangle that cost the life of Jessi Kassirivu. Idi Amin died in 2003 but Sarah outlived him and died of cancer after a quiet life in England in 2015. One of the highlights of the story is that Idi Amin’s best man was Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The documentary titled “Bwana Jogoo: The Ballad of Jessy Gitta”, is one that I look forward to seeing as it is part of understanding a very confusing head of state.

The first thing that came to mind when reading the news about Robert Mugabe, more affectionately or sarcastically referred to as uncle Bob, it did not come as a huge surprise as he had celebrated his 95th birthday earlier this year, it was merely a natural thing. But what was striking is that he passed away in a hospital in Singapore. This is a man who was not only the first president of the country, he ruled it for over three decades. Having done so, he did not manage to build not one hospital that he could confidently treat him. So throughout his presidency and until his death he paid a hospital in Singapore to take care of him with the money of poor tax paying Zimbabweans.

Yet, Uncle Bob was not all bad. When he emerged as the first as Prime Minister and later President of Zimbabwe, he was revolutionary who fearlessly fought the colonizer to liberate his country and his people from British rule, and was tried and imprisoned for doing until he finally succeeded. After he became Prime Minister he pushed for peace and unity, appointing White Zimbabweans to his cabinet. This was the reason behind Nobel prize nomination he received by Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the time, Lord Carrington. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth, the former colonizer of Rhodesia who “granted” it its independence, knighted him as a recognition of his work for his country.

Rumors of Mugabe dying were rampant throughout his presidency, especially as his age kept increasing along with his visits to the Singapore Hospitals. Known for his daring wit, he was quoted to have said “I have died many times- that's where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once”. How it all ended is what I find to be puzzling but most of all discouraging. Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, is quoted as having said this of Mugabe “the trouble with Mugabe is that he was the star – and then the sun came up”. Out of all of our freedom fighters to have survived, it is sad that Mugabe did not deliver what he stood for, real political and economic liberation, to his people and to Africa.

Although it may not be a absolutely similar, Idi Amin and Mugabe has quite a bit in common, particularly their closeness to Britain. They have both done terrible things, yet we're both believed to being promising leaders when they first began. I wish we could narrate their story not only by what they did wrong but by what drove them abs shaped them. Maybe one day, someone will do that.

Contributed by Leyou Tameru
Contributed by Leyou Tameru