The story of the 90-year old Priscilla Sitienei touched my soul, but the one about 90-year old Robert Mugabe is nauseating. Sitienei's story is a portrait of African resilience and quest for knowledge, while the one about Mugabe depicts the worst in African politics. What we have here is a great and inspiring African story side-by-side with a tale of misery.
Meet Priscilla Sitienei, or Gogo as she is fondly called. Gogo is a Kenyan great-great-grandmother recently introduced to the world by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC). Gogo has been on planet earth for mighty long time. Mackenzie King was Canada's Prime Minister when Gogo was born in 1925. That was the year in which a U.S. presidential inauguration was first aired nationwide live on radio -- Calvin Coolidge was president. In Europe, Germany's future Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was making a come-back after his release from prison for his 1923 attempted a coup in Munich to seize power.
At 90 years Gogo is still hard at work in her village at Ndalat in Kenya's Rift Valey helping women in their pregnancy, labour, and birth -- she has been an expert midwife as long as she can remember. But Gogo never learnt how to read or write, until recently when she decided to change that.
Gogo is now attending primary school with her great-great-grandchildren and their friends, some of who she helped deliver as babies. The BBC quotes Gogo's explanation for seeking formal education as follows: "I want to inspire children to get an education. Too many older children are not in school." To the older generation who missed formal education, Gogo says: "They tell me they are too old. I tell them, 'Well I am at school and so should you.'"
Next we meet the 90-year-old iron-fisted ruler of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, soon to be crowned chairman of the African Union (AU). A continental institution representing 54 African countries, the AU's vision is to build "An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena." AU core objectives are: "To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; To promote and protect human and peoples' rights....; To establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations."
Mugabe's record in each of these fields is repugnant. He is no democrat -- the 90-year old strongman has run Zimbabwe as one-party dictatorship for 35 years. Ethnic and racial cleansing together with violence against political opponents make him one of the world's worst human rights abusers. And far from creating conditions for economic development, he plunged his country into perpetual crisis that rendered Zimbabwean dollar, the official currency, worthless and later abandoned. The U.S. dollar and foreign currencies replaced the dead money in 2009.
How might Mugabe represent his continent as AU chairman? He is under travel bans from both the United States and European Union since 2002 in protest to his political thuggery. In 2014 Mugabe boycotted the EU-Africa Summit in Brussels after he was given a rare invitation. Reason for Mugabe no show? His wife Grace Mugabe was denied a visa.
To the 90-year Priscilla Sitienei, I say -- you are a great African inspiration. These words borrowed from the Bible best describe you: "Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever...[M]any will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase."
To the 90-year old Robert Mugabe and fellow African heads of state that have nominated him as AU chairman we ask: how could you do such a thing especially at the 2015 AU Summit whose triple theme is "democracy, governance, and human rights"? Mugabe stands for exactly the opposite -- totalitarianism and misery.