How enthralled I was on Thursday. I was glued to the television watching history unfold. Finally, the kind of history that will be written about for many years to come was taking place in my living room. I have always been fascinated by history. There is something mysterious and captivating about the many people who made it into the history books. I suppose there are millions more who lay sadly in their graves wondering why they didn’t make it into the books. Every school child has been gripped by historical events and figures. Those who never found the subject interesting were of course dull personalities themselves. They are the type who ended up in the science lab skinning rats and lizards. There is nothing exciting about skinning rats and lizards. But that is the price they paid for not taking interest in history.
They have now graduated to bigger things such as conducting post mortems on the people who bullied them at school. It was a wonderful subject history. It transported us to faraway places we wished to visit some day. History meant exotic names and told epic tales of men, and women, bad and good. History was about wars and conquests. It was about subjugation and racism. It was about ambition, adversity and triumph. It was about everything. Ultimately, history was about who we are today.
When history unfolds few of us little realise we are sitting right through it. We always tell ourselves that in our lifetimes certain major events will happen for us to declare them history in the making. We are oblivious to the fact that many everyday events coalesce into history and, in years to come, some school children will wonder what it was like to live in those exciting times. So, there I was on Thursday, soaking in history beamed right from London on my television set. Tony Blair was leaving. Now, Blair is not a lightweight. He is leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth. His country is proud and strong. Ages ago, it was even stronger, but nonetheless it is still strong. After ten years in office, he was calling it a day. He spoke about how power can have a corroding effect on its holders when they cling on. I couldn’t believe it.
What was the man talking about? In my part of the world people have to be dragged kicking and screaming from office. They tamper with the constitution to prolong their stay in power.
They continue on the basis of the allegation that the people still need them. They do all they can to hang on. Anyway, Blair spoke about his failures and achievements. At the end, he apologised to those for whom he had fallen short. How many in our part of the world ever apologise? And he left the judgement of his leadership to us. This was Blair at his best. But it was not his final farewell speech. It was a speech to mark the beginning of the end. In the next few months, he will be criss-crossing his country, bidding farewell. Blair will embark on an international tour to say bye-bye to his friends. His foes will be happy to see the back of him. His admirers will be left basking in his afterglow. But he will be gone. Tony certainly is older and wiser than he was when he assumed office. His hair has greyed, and justifiably so. He has been worried about lots of things.
If it was not the war in Iraq, it was poor Africans and what to do about them. Blair has made active attempts to do something about the continued decline of the continent when compared to other parts of the world. Not that the Africans really cared. Their main issue is not what Blair did to try and help. No, the concern is with Iraq and the fate of Saddam Hussein. I wonder what aid or assistance any African ever received from Saddam. But that’s my people. Anyway on Thursday, watching Blair the intelligence and amazing presence of mind were still there. I felt ashamed. Watching television, I thought: “Look at this man. He is leaving without a fear in the world. He knows no one will trump up charges against him and throw him in jail. He is not being chased into exile, abandoning his supporters to be slaughtered by his enemies in an orgy of score settling. Neither is he taking off on a plane groaning under the weight of loot from the country’s treasury. He doesn’t have any uncles and other hangers on telling him not to go. No, he is leaving because he knows others must take over, and no man alone can claim to be blessed with the wisdom of leadership.” Blair leaves his country intact and in good shape. The Africans who still mourn for Saddam will say, “Well, Iraq is not intact.” That’s true, but Africans must learn to worry about themselves first. Saddam never worried about them. Not one single day. Blair could have stayed on. There is nothing that compelled him to go.
Granted, his rival in the party wanted the top job. That is only natural. But to want the top job does not mean the incumbent is forced to go. He could as well have told the rival he was not quitting and there wasn’t much the chap could do. But that is not how things work in those parts of the world. As I watched, I wished that others were drawing lessons. I do not know what Blair intends doing with his life. He is still young and healthy.
But I am sure he will work out a plan. I am both happy and sad to see him go. But I hope by his departure leaders from my side of the world draw inspiration. I am happy to live through history, nay to have watched history unfold in the comfort of my living room. I hope on his farewell tour Blair passes by. I say farewell Tony Blair. Pity about the ugly wife though!