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Recalling my first meeting with Margaret Thatcher

Recalling my first meeting with Margaret Thatcher

The Presidential elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya were all embroiled in controversy. And now Egypt is on fire with the people out there crying for change and practically baying for President Mubarak’s’ blood. Despite the concessions he promised a Tuesday evening national broadcast, including his plan not to run for reelection next September, the crowds out there want nothing short of his stepping down from power now. I am not sure what the situation would be by the time you read this, let alone on Friday after Juma prayers. The Egyptian event erupted barely a week after Tunisia’s own President had been forced out of office by what has become known as “PEOPLE POWER.” Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast continues to be intransigent in holding on to power despite elections in which he was widely reported to have lost. These unfolding events remind me of an occasion 20 years ago with the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, more commonly referred to as the “Iron Lady.” I may have narrated the story before but I see no problem in retelling it now. I had accompanied the former President Siaka Stevens on an official visit to Britain. It was different from a state visit and so we were welcomed at Gatwick by a representative of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth rather than by a member of the Royal family. Instead of Buckingham Palace we stayed at the prestigious Claridges hotel which is still famous for hosting Monarchs and the wealthy class. The following morning Lord Carrington the British Foreign Secretary paid a courtesy call on the President. Then there was the pump of a Luncheon hosted by the Lord Mayor of London and yes, another launch at Buckingham palace which was hosted by her Majesty the Queen. But it was still an official, not a state visit as the APC propaganda team of today would have screamed.  (Photo: Dr Sama Banya)

After an inspection of a Guard of Honour just by horse guard’s parade and official talks with the British government headed by Mrs. Thatcher, there followed an official launch both at 10, Downing Street. I sat on the Prime Minister’s left with President Stevens on her right. Across the wide table was the Foreign Secretary and by his side our own Foreign Minister Dr. Abdulai Conteh. Whether Mrs. Thatcher felt that she had almost ignored me she turned round and apologized and then asked, “Mr. Minister, who is likely to succeed your President?” Without hesitation I replied, “oh, Prime Minister, although we do have a constitution that spells it all out, BUT,(with emphasis on the word) in Africa, our leaders cling to power until they either drop dead or are pushed over by the military.” Trust the Iron lady; as she immediately turned to Sheki I said quietly to myself, “ brave boy, now you have blown it up. Not only will you no longer be promoted minister of Finance, but you’re likely to lose even the portfolio of Development and economic Planning.” She asked, “Mr. President, your minister tells me that you African leaders cling on to power until you are forcefully removed or drop dead, what do you say?” However l not only stayed on as Minister of Development but at year’s end I assumed the portfolio of Finance and at the outbreak of vouchergate, Development and Economic Planning were added. So what is wrong with African leaders? They fight for independence and democracy with the slogan one man, one vote. On winning they begin to fiddle with the constitution to entrench themselves for life and even create dynasties so that they are succeeded by their children. Will those who have not yet been touched the current revolution begin to reconsider their position and take  remedial action  before they are engulfed by events that may well be beyond their control?

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