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Gaddafi and other presidents fear Africa’s diseases and children too

Wednesday April 27 2011

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

When leaked American diplomatic cables were first fed to the world a few months ago by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, one of the juicy bits was about Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and his “voluptuous blonde” nurse.

The cable suggested that the embattled Gaddafi was having an affair with the “voluptuous” nurse, Galina Kolotniskaya.

Kolotniskaya was one of five high-profile Ukrainian nurses who looked after the good colonel.

When the revolt broke out and it seemed Gaddafi was toast, they did the sensible thing and fled (as Ugandans say, it is the foolish fly that is buried with the corpse). Now they are talking.

Newsweek interviewed one of them, Oksana Balinskaya, and she unburdened herself in the issue of two weeks ago.

It is a fascinating interview, and proved how little the rest of the world knew of the real Gaddafi, whom the Ukrainian nurses sweetly called “Papik”.

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Given that Gaddafi wanted to be crowned “King of Africa” and spent the last few years playing to being a big pan-Africanist, his actions reveal a deep distrust and contempt for Africans.

Balinskaya says that when Papik visited countries like Chad and Mali, they insisted that he wear gloves to “protect him against tropical diseases”.

At least now we know why Gaddafi sometimes wore gloves in sweltering heat on his Africa tours.

But perhaps more disheartening is her revelation that, “When we drove around poor African countries, he would fling money and candy out of the window of his armoured limousine to children who ran after our motorcade; he didn’t want them close for fear of catching diseases from them.”

I have never wished Papik well, and with this, I hope his final misfortune comes sooner than later.

However, it is also easy to get carried away with his fear of diseased Africa and accuse him of being an Arab racist.

Gaddafi is not the only African leader guilty of this sin. Quite a few African leaders do the same thing.

Some are known to run off to the bathroom to wash and disinfect their hands after greeting people whose votes they are seeking at a campaign rally.

Many a president will usually have his special microphone. He speaks into it and it is removed, or else the next speaker spit some virus into it that could make His Excellency ill the next time round.

Most of our presidents also have special chairs. The presidential bottom doesn’t sit where an ordinary bottom has.

Though it is ridiculous, we are so used to seeing a president’s chair being carried into an event, and hauled off after the he leaves, that we no longer think it is funny.

We shall not do a song and dance about special food, plates and glasses, because we all have our dietary idiosyncrasies.

Just like we couldn’t blame Gaddafi for his fussiness, we cannot blame other African leaders only.

In having things like special chairs, they are mimicking what they learnt at home.

In most of our cultures, we tend to elevate the kings, queens, and chiefs to levels that make them demigods.

In Uganda, which has many small and one or two big kings, the masses are never supposed to see a monarch eating.

In the good old days, when the king of Buganda visited an area, for as long as he was in the neigbhourhood, no man could share the marital bed with his wife.

They crashed on the floor or sofa, if they had one. The king was “king of men”, and symbolically all the women in the realm were his.

To share a bed with your wife when the king was in town was to challenge his position as the First Among Men. Fortunately, times have changed.

In many homes, we see the same things played out. The man of the house is the “head of the household”. He has his special chair on which he alone sits.

Any child who transgresses is punished. He has his special cup from which he alone drinks, as he does his exclusive plate.

And he alone shall switch on the TV and use the remote. Our Big Men often reproduce the patterns of privilege and autocracy they learnt at home as children.

That is what makes the whole issue particularly tragic.