Obasanjo told a tale of how Zambia’s independence leader and first president Kenneth Kaunda, who is now 93 and was hospitalised on Wednesday, was treated by his successors over an apparently trivial matter involving books.
Obasanjo was speaking at a French Embassy event in Pretoria on Wednesday night at the launch of the French translation of a book he co-authored with three others, including writer and consultant Greg Mills, called “Making Africa Work”.
“I came to Zambia when president Kaunda was being harassed, and I thought in Zambia, or any other country in Africa, we should treat our past presidents with a little bit more dignity,” he said.
Dr Kaunda’s successor, Frederick Chiluba, was unhappy with Kaunda during the handover of power after Kaunda’s party lost in a snap election, and Obasanjo asked him what the matter was.
“If president Kaunda had done anything that is wrong, deal with it humanely, but let me know what exactly he has done so I can go to him as my elder brother. And what he said to me, is president Kaunda removes all the books from the shelf in the State House, and I said: ‘Is that all?’”
Obasanjo said he went to Dr Kaunda and asked him what was the matter. Dr Kaunda said there was “not a single book” when he moved in, and all the books in the shelves were his.
Obasanjo said he went back to Chiluba and offered to “go around the world and collect more books” from the printers and publishers he knew to fill up his shelves.
Obasanjo said he told Chiluba to treat Dr Kaunda well, because he was the first president to have the opportunity to treat a past president well.
Obasanjo said he also spoke out when former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was “being treated like an animal in a cage” when he had to face various trials in Egyptian courts before being acquitted earlier this year.
Mubarak was deposed in 2011.