Former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali made history as the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring of 2011. When the young street fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, immolated himself in the city of Sidi Bouzid little did Ben Ali know that the end had come! The late Sidi’s desperate step of setting himself on fire to protest the oppressive living conditions in his country led to street riots across the country that culminated in the revolution that swept through the Arab world leading to regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The 75-year-old Ali fled with his wife, Leila, to Saudi Arabia where they live a luxurious life in exile. The former President and his wife already have been tried in absentia and sentenced to 35 years in prison for massive corruption but Ben Ali remains an executive fugitive. He ran Tunisia more like a police state even though the nation prospered under his leadership. He had sought vainly to resist the Arab Spring revolution by using force to nip it in the bud but failed.
Saudi Arabia reminds one of another disgraced African leader who ran there for safety after losing power. The late Idi Amin Dada was the notorious Ugandan Head of State who made name for himself for his cannibalism, state terrorism and hubris of power. He fell, fled and lived in exile in the Saudi capital city where he passed away years back. Another celebrated long-standing President who died in exile was Mobutu Sese-Seko of the former Zaire now DR Congo. Mobutu was a brutish dictator who dispossessed his country for his personal benefits. He scandalously became richer than Zaire and boasted of his kleptocratic exploits. Amin and Mobutu represented the very worst leaders ever to have presided over the destiny of their respective countries. They conquered their peoples temporarily but the ultimate leveller conquered their souls far away from home!
Another vile former leader living in exile for decades is no other than Hissene Habre who ruled Chad despotically for years only to lose the grip of power and and flee to Senegal where he has been tried for the many atrocities he committed while calling the shots in Ndjamena. He is awaiting sentencing and destined for prison! Returning home soon, even in casket or body bag, is not feasible given the Deby entrenchment at home as the strongman. Habre presents the nauseating image of a remorseless dictator who prefers monologue to vocal self-defense during his trial in Dakar. The guilty, as the saying goes, is always afraid! And sometimes when mutism is added to the mix it becomes an irresponsible way of playing ‘victim’ when you know you are in the wrong.
Amadou Toumani Toure presided over the affairs of Mali for years in a democracy. The war in the north by the ‘Azawad’ warriors precipitated his fall from power. A mutiny was organized and before any negotiation could be concluded a seizure of power was operated by one Captain Amadou Sanogo. This military upstart was forced to organize a presidential poll years back in which the present President, Ibrahim Bubakar Keita, won and took over power. But Toure, living in self-imposed exile in Senegal, is now wanted by the Malian justice for his alleged ‘ignoble’ role in the rebellion cum insurrection in the north dominated by the Tourag seperatists. He is alleged to have colluded with the rebels towards achieving their aim of independence. It was rumoured or alleged that he has a parental root in the ‘Azawad’ kinship.
Like Charles Taylor, former Liberian warlord, former President now serving a hefty sentence of fifty years behind bars for his ignominous diamond-for-arms role in the proctracted civil war Sierra Leone somewhere in England had lived in exile in Calabar Nigeria before his eventual deportation to face his accusers the late Siad Barre of Somalia fled to Nairobi and then Lagos when his power base fell to rebels in Mogadishu. He died in the city-state of aquatic splendour but Somalia has not known peace for decades.
Moussa Dadis Camara was a military young man who saw an opportunity after the demise of the long-serving President Lansana Conte and seized it. He struck in the ensuing confusion following the official announcement of Conte’s mortal departure by grabbing state institutions and the apparatus of power. But he was as naive as one can ever imagine. He was unable to maintain control of his forces as they ran berserk during an opposition event inside the stadium by killing scores of people, raping some more and injuring hundreds in a stampede that followed! He lives in seclusive exile in Ouagadougou Burkina Faso. His spirited attempts to return home during the last presidential election were foiled as he was stopped in Abidjan en route Conakry. Before then he was questioned by the prosecutors of the state over his involvement or responsibility in the stadium massacre of years gone by.
In Central African Republic ex-President Michel Djotodia and Francois Bozize he toppled are both living in exile. While Djotodia is in Cotonou Bozize is in France. A new President has been sworn-in. His name is Faustin-Archange Touadéra, a mathematician who says he is still interested in giving lectures on maths in the Ivory Tower even as a sitting president! Bangui is facing the future with a simple patriotic president who cares about reconciliation and economic empowerment of the people. The country has seen many tragedies in the past and wars fought on ethnic or religious lines. The UN foreign peace-keeping forces (especially from France) have been accused severally of raping the young girls in the hinterland on the course of duty!
Ms Joyce Banda rose to power in Malawi after the death of the then President Bingu wa Mutharika. Much like Goodluck Jonathan post-Musa Yar’Adua of Nigeria Banda was the then Vice-President and as stipulated by the constitution she was allowed to become the President despite the efforts of those working with the deceased president to thwart her ascension to the ‘throne’. She made history by becoming the second woman ever, after Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, to occupy such supreme office in a politically-charged nation like Malawi. The late President’s brother Arthur Peter Mutharika defeated Joyce soundly in the presidential election of 2014 and despite attempts to annul the results in the eleventh hour like June 12 she was forced out by forces above her control and she ‘fled’ to the US where she still lives in exile! She refused to be present during the swearing-in of the elected president just offering her reluctant felicitations and stepping aside gracelessly.
But by far the most celebrated case of presidential exile is emanating from Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire. In October of 2014 the then President Blaise Compaore had sought yet another five-year mandate via a constitutional coup d’etat since he was disqualified by the same national document from ever presenting himself for the highest office having served a mandatory two terms. Everything was on motion and on the D-Day the revolted Burkinabes (majority teenagers) protested loudly and violently setting ablaze the national assembly complex where the compromised parliamentarians were meeting to effect the amendment! What followed later was a revolution that lasted for days leading to the forced departuure of Compaore. Ouagadougou post-Blaise remains a changed city free from the Compaore complex. After months of transitional government a presidential poll was held late last year and a new president has emerged in the person of Christian Kabore.
Blaise Compaore and his junior brother, Francois, ran to Yamoussoukro for safety. The Ivorian government led by Alassane Ouattara has told the world that the Compaore brothers are very much at home away from home. The government has since acceded to their demand of naturalisation. Both Blaise and Francois are now Ivorians with valid Ivorian ID papers issued to them by the government! The issuance of Ivorian nationality documents to the duo provoked huge controversy as the opposition kicked against the move. The new Burkinabe President has said recently in Paris that he was shocked and surprised at the turn of events given that as Ivorian cotizens Bl aise and brother cannot be handed over to any authorities outside Ivorian shores for prosecution of any sort!
While his wife, Chantal, is an Ivorian by origin Compaore the disgraced President who killed his best friend Thomas Sankara to be able to assume the presidency of the country has suffered indispositions that took him to Morocco for remedy. On one occasion he was reported to have fallen inside the bathroom breaking his hip! The spirit of Sankara is still kicking decades after his brutal execution and shabby burial treatment. By requesting and obtaining the Ivorian nationality Compaore may have decided that it is better to die abroad in freedom than facing the many atrocities traceable to his 27-year (mis)rule.
We are, of course, fortunate enough as a nation not to have the history of any ex-President or Head of state living in self-imposed exile overseas. We have got Alhaji Shehu Shagari living happily in Sokoto. We have among us, in flesh and blood, the evil genuis, Maradona IBB, still nursing his age-long radiculopathy and dribbling himself in a one-man soccer show (since every spectator has gone home). We have Abdulsalami Abubakar very much around enjoying life in retirement in Minna as an elder statesman. There is a certain ‘Baba’, the Owu Chief, still kicking strong as a septuagenerian. OBJ even danced ‘hold-me-tight’ with the Dame publicly the other day amidst national energy crisis! Baba jets out of the country frequently and flies back without hindrances.
But a former President, the youngest among the lot, is missing in action as it were: Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Post-May 29 2015 GEJ has abandoned Otueke, Yenegoa, PH, Lagos and Abuja for Western cities in search of awards and new friends. He lives more abroad than at home. But we need him back home desperately, folks. We need GEJ to attend to the many ‘gates’ (Ekiti, Dasuki, Diezani etc) in which he was eminently involved as President. He ought to come forward to clarify certain issues and prove his innocence in the court of public opinion. Our own Thomas Edison in terms of ‘cassava bread’ invention must make himself available to clear his name from the presidential mess he left behind.
Image: Txefar via Flickr