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Plenty of leadership lessons from lives of Mugabe, Jawara

Saturday September 14 2019

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The death on August 27 of the Gambia's founding president Dawda Jawara at the age of 95 was closely followed by the news of yet another death of an African independence hero – Zimbabwe's Robert Gabriel Mugabe – on Friday last week.

Jawara, a vet trained in Scotland, returned to Gambia to lead the struggle for independence from Britain, which was achieved in 1965.

He served as Prime Minister between 1962 and 1970 before taking over as President until his ouster in a bloodless coup led by then-29-year-old Yahya Jammeh in 1994.

He then lived in exile in Britain with his family until 2002 when the Jammeh administration granted him amnesty.

Following his death, also at 95, Mugabe’s legacy as independence hero and villain split the opinion of the world.

In Zimbabwe, his nearly 40 years in power were a far cry from the euphoria and bullishness that marked the attainment of independence in 1980.


While most Zimbabweans, including those in the opposition, liked the idea of land expropriation for distribution to the majority Africans, his carving up the same to his cronies was criticised.

He also faced criticism for the killings, in the early 1980s, of more than 10,000 people in Matabeleland, supposedly on his orders.

There are plenty of lessons that Africa and its current crop of leaders can learn from these two fallen heroes of liberation.

A host of issues - including land, poverty, disease and illiteracy - goaded our founding fathers into fighting for independence wars.

Today, 62 years since Ghana became sub-Saharan Africa’s first independent state, we are still bedevilled by the same issues. Leaders who took over power at independence put their insular interests first.

Experience has taught us that a leader’s long stay in power makes them disregard the rule of law. They misuse their country's resources. They destroy institutions, and this leads to civil unrest.


In the Gambia, the government of President Adama Barrow recently formed a commission to look into the ills of former President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule that ended in 2016.

In Zimbabwe, like in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent, ethnic and clan rivalries still strangle political growth and democracy.

And in Congo DR, Central African Republic and Somalia, fighting over resources is a reflection of social and economic inequality.

Leadership is an opportunity to do good. Martin Luther King Jr was a paradigm of goodness.

It is wise to relinquish power at the right time. We must love and empathise with one another.