Ivorian former first lady, Dr. Simone Gbagbo, is now a prisoner. Mr Gbagbo was recently found guilty of subverting authorities, among others, and was awarded 20 years in jail. Mrs Gbagbo’s conviction has been received with mixed views and reaction. The beneficiaries from her stint in power were perturbed and wounded while the victims of her husband’s resistance that resulted in over 3000 innocent people dying were elated. For them – at least – justice was done and be seen done.
Mrs Gbagbo – during her husband’s stint in power – was much more feared than the president himself. This is no longer an anomaly in Africa where some First Ladies are carrying themselves around as presidents. Mrs Gbagbo is renowned for having used her husband to become rich as well as secure favours and deals for herself and friends. Differently from other corrupt first ladies, Mrs Gbagbo didn’t create any NGO to mint and print money. Instead, she applied pressure on her husband to use his office to enhance her networks to make money.
Africa used to marvel at Philippine’s’ first lady, Imelda Marcos famed for her lavish spends. She now has a lot of Imelda’s. Mrs Gbagbo’s unceremonious fall from grace has a lesson for African first ladies who use their relationship with presidents to become the presidents behind the curtains. Many shrewd first ladies have forced their husbands to appoint their friends and relations. Others have forced presidents to create positions for them in their ruling parties or governments. Recently, in Zimbabwe, the first lady became an influential office bearer in her husband’s ruling party ZANUPF while in Uganda the first lady is a minister in her husband’s cabinet.
The collapse of Gbagbo’s regime is allegedly linked to Mrs Gbagbo who is said to have pressed her husband not recognize the results that showed that his opponent, the current president Allasane Outtara, secured victory in the 2011 general elections. It is sad however to find that the president, a Professor and his wife, a PhD holder, were unable to be objective.
The big lesson one gets from Mrs Gbagbo’s predicament-cum-plight is that abusing powers of the office of the president is dangerous. Our first ladies need to be cagey of power lulls. They need to act as advisors to their husbands instead of acting as money makers using the banner of the state house. The lesson learned is that power is a temporal refugee. So, too, power does intoxicate. Use and spend power gingerly and cagily.
Culled from The African Executive