Robert Mugabe aka Uncle Bob died last week at the ripe old age of 95. He followed a long list of African leaders who died abroad where they fled to seek treatment after neglecting the medical facilities in their home countries. Mugabe died in the Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore. Over the years, Singapore is where he went for his physicals and treatment while the common Zimbabwean had to make do with the terrible healthcare services at home.
Anytime one of these leaders dies in a hospital abroad, it is a gross indictment of how little they invest in the healthcare of their people. Possibly they would not have died when and where they did if they had developed the healthcare facilities in their home countries.
These deaths also highlight the fact that these leaders and their families get their care abroad and so do not see the need to improve the resources in their home countries. Little do they realize that in the event of an emergency, Paris, London and Cleveland are way too far.
The story of Eyadema highlights how the neglect caught up with one of these leaders.
Gnassimgbe Eyadema ruled Togo for 40 years. In all those years, he never saw the need to set up a cardiac care unit for the country. When he suffered a heart attack in 2005, his family tried to fly him from Lome to Paris for treatment, a distance of 6747 km (4193 miles). He died en route in Tunis, Tunisia.
Another haunting account is that of the death of president Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi. He also suffered a myocardial infarction in 2012 and died as a result.
As long as African leaders continue to neglect healthcare in their home countries, they will continue to die in cold hospital rooms thousands of miles from home. Like Benjamin Franklin wrote in his 1757 edition of the “Poor Richard’s Almanac”,
“A little neglect may breed mischief: for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost.”
Hopefully, the day will come soon when African leaders will get great care in hospitals in their own countries when they get sick. Till then, appreciate the list of our leaders who have died abroad over the years below.
On a closing note, may Robert Mugabe rest in peace and may he be remembered for fixing the land ownership issue in Zimbabwe, even if his solution was imperfect. The impasse over land ownership in South Africa shows the courage and even craziness in Mugabe’s decision.
Dr. Nana Dadzie Ghansah is an anesthesiologist who practices in Lexington, Kentucky