The death of Robert Mugabe , former President of Zimbabwe on Sept. 6, at the Gleneagles Hospital, in Singapore, once again raised the issue of medical tourism by African leaders.
Mugabe, born Feb.21, 1924, ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, from independence in 1980 until 2017, when he was toppled, went for the treatment in April.
The death of the sit-tight leader had continued to elicit reactions from world leaders and scholars. In his condolence message to President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, President Muhammadu Buhari described late Mugabe as a highly intelligent and courageous leader that fought and sacrificed so much to liberate his country and free his people from minority occupation.
Buhari said: “He was also in the vanguard of the fight to free several countries of Southern Africa from apartheid and colonialism. He was a true pan-Africanist and patriot. Africa has lost one of its finest sons.
“Mugabe led his country to greater heights after independence, until the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, on account of dispossessing land occupied by white Zimbabweans, crippled his country economically.”
Mnangagwa while declaring days of national mourning, extolled the virtues of Mugabe, stressing that he dedicated himself to the development of the country before and after independence.
“Mugabe was a great teacher, mentor and remarkable statesman of our country. “Zimbabwe is free and has been since 1980, thanks to the sacrifices of a generation of dedicated, veteran nationalists and freedom fighters, pre-dating the 1960s, who included the late Mugabe,” Mnangagwa said.
President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, said the late Mugabe was an African icon, adding “it is with a deep sense of sadness that I learned about the passing away of the former President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
“Comrade Robert Mugabe was an outstanding leader and hero of the cause for freedom in Africa,’’ Geingob said.
On his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his message published on the Kremlin website, said that many important events in the modern history of Zimbabwe were associated with the name of Robert Mugabe.
Putin noted that Mugabe would be remembered in Russia as a consistent supporter of the development of friendly relations, between the two countries, who did a lot to strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation.
Zambian President, Edgar Lungu said that Mugabe would be remembered for his fight for Africa’s liberation and standing up to fearlessly defend the continent he loved most.
“His place in the annals of Africa’s political history is well assured,’’ he said in a statement. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni described Mugabe as an African liberation icon and great Pan-Africanist.
Former Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, in a condolence letter to Mnangagwa, described Mugabe as a frontline leader, activist, and an indomitable fighter for the liberation of Zimbabwe from the apartheid and oppressive racialism.
Obasanjo also described Mugabe as: “A statesman par excellence and a tireless advocate of the preservation of the mystique of Africa’s moral and cultural values.
“He selflessly dedicated himself to public service for most of his life, particularly as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and also as President from 1987 to 2017,” Obasanjo said.
However, scholars who appraised Mugabe’s 37-year rule noted that he did not use his long tenure to bequeath enduring infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
They noted that if the health sector in his country was not in shambles he would not have gone to Singapore for medical treatment.
They said that President Fidel Castro, who governed Cuba for more than three decades, as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and, later as President from 1976 to 2008, never traveled abroad for medical treatment throughout his tenure.
Also President Muammar Gaddafi, who led Libya for more than four decades until his ousting in August 2011, never at any point embarked on medical tourism.
They said although Mugabe’s administration expanded education, as emphatic means to unlock the freedom of Zimbabwe nationals, little was done to improve health care delivery.
Prof. Jonah Onuoha, Head of Political Science Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka, who commented on Mugabe’s death in Singapore, said it was indicative of poor health infrastructure in Zimbabwe.
He supported calls by Nigerians in the Diaspora that African leaders should receive medical treatment in their home countries.
Onuoha said that African leaders, like the case of Mugabe, embark on medical tourism because they failed to put adequate health care facilities in place in their own countries.
“Consequently, they are fond of traveling abroad for medical treatment. “Mugabe was famous as a freedom fighter and other things but failed to overhaul the health sector in Zimbabwe, thereby resulting to decay in the provision of health care service delivery.
“African leaders must be held accountable and compelled to treat their ailments in hospitals at their home countries; Africans must prevail on their leaders to upgrade infrastructure in their countries.”
Onuoha also decried Mugabe’s refusal to relinquished power, adding that it negates democratic principles.
According to him, sit-tight by African leaders is because they are not used to democracy.
“Mugabe got to power through revolution and led for 37 years; he would have died in power if he was not ousted two years ago; Africans must be tutored on issues of democracy and regime change.
“Regime change must be a culture and leaders must be made to leave office when due, there is nothing more alluring than power and once you are in power, everybody follows you. “No leader wants to relinquish power unless there is pressure within and outside, compelling them to step down, it is either four years or eight years in office,’’ Onuoha said.
On his own part, Prof. Ayo Olukotun of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife said Mugabe did not know when to quit office.
Olukotun said that he allowed the good works that he had done to be counterbalanced by the evil and ugly drama of staying too long in office as a president.
Olukotun said: “He came to power as an anti-colonialist and leader of a revolutionary party; Nigeria even assisted his party in those times.
“For a few decades; he did well and there were hopes of a new beginning for Zimbabwe, however, the tragedy of his later years was that of a population put under the iron rule.” Mugabe’s redistribution of land policy controlled by white farmers to landless blacks initially on a “willing-seller-willing-buyer” basis was applauded by his countrymen.
But regrettably, his later years were characterized by rights abuses and corruption that beclouded his achievements.
Commentators, observers, and scholars are in agreement, that in spite of his shortcomings, he remained a leader that made indelible marks in the annals of Zimbabwean history.