Just a few days after Zambia celebrated her 50th independence anniversary last month, their president, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital, where he had been admitted with an unspecified illness.
A lot of attention has been paid to the man who has succeeded him, Guy Scott, a white man, because of his skin. Few people have noted the embarrassing irony of leaders of ‘independent’ African countries dying in the lands of former colonial masters, 50 years since independence.
Eleven African leaders have died in office since 2008 and majority of them it was in a hospital abroad or soon after arriving home. Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa (France) and now Michael Sata (UK), Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi (Belgium), Omar Bongo (Spain), Ghana’s John Atta Mills and Nigeria’s Umaru Yar’Adua all fit in that category.
Ideally, the poor health infrastructure in most African countries is the reason African leaders, who are ironically charged with improving these facilities, can’t use them. But it’s also true that African leaders are very secretive about their health; and so, being hospitalised abroad helps them to keep their illness secret and thus their power intact.
It’s a shame that a leader can be in charge of a country for 20 years and still fail to create conditions that would enable him or her to get medical attention at home. Perhaps it’s because their own health is never really at stake as they have taxpayers’ money at their disposal in case they need even the simplest treatment abroad, while their poor citizens are left to their own devices.
Throwing mega parties to celebrate independence under such circumstances is the worst form of self-deception. African leaders who are still living need to restore some pride to this dear continent by establishing or facilitating the establishment of medical facilities that are capable of not only handling their health needs but also that of all their people.
That way, even an Ebola outbreak would not be as devastating as it has been in West Africa as there would be a fairly robust health system in place to manage every health challenge.