Fri Oct 21 22:20:34 CAT 2016

Friends can't be protected forever

By unknown | Aug 24, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

The sight of a former president of any country - African, Asian, American or European - on the run, is not pretty.

The indignity, the fear of detection, the furtive, suspicious look at every stranger, the heart palpitations whenever the stranger appears to recognise you.

It's not an unnatural emotion to feel sorry for such a person. Admittedly, if you were a victim of this former leader's wrath, you might need to believe in the Bible, Mai Chaza, the Koran, the Talmud, the Buddha - all put together - or any number of saints or departed Do-gooders, to forgive him or her.

Charles Taylor, formerly of Liberia, but now of no fixed abode, is giving his prosecutors a hell of a time.

It's not surprising that he wants his trial postponed and postponed again and again until it probably can't be postponed any more.

Slobodan Milosevic tried that, until this Great Someone decided to take matters into His own hands. Milosevic didn't live to have a chance to see the matter to its logical conclusion. He just wasn't there any more.

Taylor was caught only after a friend of his, the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, decided he couldn't shelter him any more.

People thought Obasanjo didn't want Taylor to be handed over to answer for his ... actions - it's a polite word than "crimes". Not being a lawyer you might be sued, not by Taylor, but by his supporters.

Obasanjo must have known his friend was not innocent, but friendship can play tricks. The Gentlemen of The South who gathered in Lusaka this month ought to remember that: you can't protect your friend from all their enemies all the time.

Personally, I would forgive anyone who accused me of taking a macabre delight in recounting the number of African leaders who have ended their lives ingloriously.

If I were asked to pay the price for any sins of omission or commission, I too would probably plead for my life. I too would complain that there was no justice in the world, where an innocent person could be hanged for crimes he did not commit.

Still, that admission does not prevent me from taking delight - call it morbid, ghoulish or whatever - in warning all who love power for its own sake, that a nasty end awaits them.

Many leaders claim their every act is committed on behalf of their people, as a Mafioso claims his (or her?) every hit is executed on behalf of The Family.

Those who subsequently flee their own countries have never been heard to confess that they fled because they knew they were as guilty as sin and knew that "my people wanted to kill me for what I did to them".

The men in Lusaka last week (will there ever be a woman leader in this region?) may have had their differences over Zimbabwe, but in the end they preferred to stick with their friend, President Robert Mugabe.

Fortunately, history tells us a fair world judges people by their actions and rewards them accordingly.

Why do the sceptics believe it was sheer coincidence that Mobutu Sese Seko and Idi Amin died in inglorious exile? It can't be coincidence that both men had fled their countries in shame.

Two men I saw in Lusaka reminded me how beautiful it is to get out while you still have your dignity intact: Kenneth Kaunda and Frederick Chiluba, both former presidents of Zambia.

If they hadn't got out when they did, we would be counting them among our "Charles Taylors".l Bill Saidi is the deputy editor at The Standard in Zimbabwe. His column appears every Friday.


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