Fundamental questions about the health of some African leaders and the lack of transparency on their health status have been raised in recent times.
These African leaders usually give the impression that the health of their countries is directly proportional to their personal health and therefore conceal the truth about their ailments.
Interestingly, local journalists have often been barred from reporting on the health of the leaders under threats of arrest, while various presidential spokesmen either keep mute or report the leader as being “hale and hearty” or “fit as a fiddle”.
According to the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation, the past months years have seen speculations mounting over the health of at least four heads of state in Africa.
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These leaders often leave their countries in limbo, as they spend a lot of time abroad seeking medical attention according to Bloomberg.
Usually pegged “routine medical check-ups”, these African leaders seek treatment – in Europe, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia, which is a direct reflection of their own failure to establish functioning health systems in their various home countries.
The nondisclosure by these leaders on the true nature of their ailments has presumably been described as “a reflection of lack of trust in their citizens”. Here are the four African leaders whose health challenges have been shrouded in secrecy:
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari
On January 19, Buhari traveled abroad on a 10-day vacation and handed over to his vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo though his vacation was later extended and he returned in March after a 51-day vacation.
In May 2017, President Buhari also left Nigeria for the United Kingdom for the second time, for a follow-up treatment on his health. The 74-year-old Nigerian President has spent the better part of the year holed up in a London hospital treating an undisclosed illness far away from the 180 million Nigerian citizens that elected him to lead them out the worst economic crisis to hit the country in decades.
Buhari’s continued absence has fueled a leadership crisis that has threatened to boil over on several occasions amid calls for him to take the high road and hand in his resignation if he can no longer cope with the physical and mental rigor of leading Africa’s most populous country.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos
Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos has held power since 1979, making him Africa’s second-longest serving leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
He was away from his country for the entire month of May, sparking speculations that he was dead or terminally ill. Authorities were not willing to provide specifics about the 74-year-old’s whereabouts until they bowed to the pressure from the opposition and civil society groups, forcing the Foreign Minister to clarify that Santos was in Spain receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
The August 23, 2017 elections will bring his 38-year reign to an end. Known for his unrelenting authoritarian style, President Dos Santos has been credited with leading Angola out of the war, moving away from hard line Marxism, fostering a post-war oil boom and foreign investment surge that has transformed central Luanda.
But his rule has also been criticised as secretive and corrupt, with Angola’s citizens suffering abject poverty while his family and the elite enriched themselves.
President Peter Mutharika of Malawi
In 2016, President Peter Mutharika of Malawi was absent from the country for weeks, spurning the hashtag #Bring Back Mutharika. His absence left the door open to wild speculations about his death as his aides provided no specific information about his whereabouts.
On his return to the country, 76-year-old Mutharika admitted at a press briefing that he had been away in a U.S. hospital to treat rheumatism, a muscle and joint condition that is often chronic and debilitating in older sufferers.
Mr Mutharika, who is rumoured to be seeking re-election, however, insisted that he is in excellent health, adding that he is as healthy as any 30-year-old.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe is 93 years old and the oldest elected president in the world. In recent years, his health has taken quite a hit obviously from the ravages of old age; he periodically flies out to Singapore for medical attention. It is rumoured that he has prostate cancer.
However, close aides of Mugabe continue to insist that his many trips to Singapore are meant to treat a minor problem with his eye.