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Life Reflections

In Thatcher, the world has lost an “iron-willed” leader

By April 12, 2013June 6th, 2023No Comments

Rwandans stand with the British in their time of grief, with the passing of Margaret Thatcher. For, however hard Rwanda may chide the UK for giving in to the pressures of its mean media, in the final analysis, she does it as a sister would, a sister.

Rwanda appreciates, as a sister should, that the UK has stood with her, as no other country has, all the way from 1994. To Rwanda, the UK is not a distant, foreign “donor”. She is the kith within. And so the freedom with chides, when Rwanda feels that, unlike other countries, she (UK) should understand her standpoint. That she should not move with the crowd of other countries that grab at mere allegations to turn them into fact, and accordingly act on them.

Even then, of course, we are keenly aware that not all Britons are sad at the demise of this great lady. Nor are many in the world, going by the expressions of jubilation in some parts of it. And, let’s admit it, “The Iron Lady” courted controversy wherever she went. But show me a leader who didn’t, and I’ll show you a leader who didn’t court, or, for that matter, do, anything. The very times demanded “a conviction politician”, as Margaret called herself, and in her they got one.

When Thatcher exploded on the British scene in May 1979, she shook all the fundamentals of its government. From a government that was laden with the management of everything, from railways to home phones, she cut everything and put it in private hands, leaving a government that was as lean as it was mean.

As today’s Prime Minister Cameron has said of her, she wanted “sound money; strong defence; liberty under the rule of law.” She was convinced that government shouldn’t spend what it hasn’t earned; that governments don’t create wealth, that businesses do. A maxim that resonates with Rwanda, if you ask me. But that, to a government that wanted business as usual, even if it was defeatism business, was controversy.

So, as soon as she entered No.10 Downing Street, when she ordered government cuts in higher education spending, Margaret became the first Oxford-educated post-war PM not to be awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater. When she cut a free-milk programme from primary school pupils, she was dubbed “Thatcher the snatcher”!

When in 1981 riots picked in England and the din in the media was that she makes a U-turn, “Iron Lady” stuck to her guns, responding: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s is not for turning!” And the picketing by mine workers that went with the riots, all she overrode and they came to nought.

And so, as Rwandan refugees, we followed her news eagerly and watched her rabble rousing controversies. We admired her when that “not for turning” iron served a good cause but, rather too frequently, reviled her when she shocked us with a severe turn, when it came to that.

It was with horror, for instance, that in 1981 we received news of the death of Bobby Sands and nine others, all on hunger strike, in prison as suspected IRA (Irish Republican Army) terrorists. That was not all. In 1982, she ordered her army to violently eject the Argentine army that had invaded the Falklands Islands to reclaim it as its Malvinas, being within its waters.

The worst, however, to us as Africans, was when we watched as she alone stood against the sanctions imposed on Apartheid South Africa by all other Western countries. And she did not mince her words about it, either, calling the ANC (African National Congress) “a typical terrorist organisation.”

Poor soul, however, with the threat of IRA at her door, how was she to know better? So we understood, hard as it was, when she did not seem to suffer any so-called terrorist gladly.

In fact, in the whole of black South Africa, only Zambia’s President Kaunda seemed to be anywhere near cutting any ice with her, at one time even waltzing with her. But then good old Kaunda has always been a charmer, hasn’t he? Look at how he has charmed God and is still going strong to this day. All the same, Margaret’s charm with him showed in her a heart that was not all ice and stone. That’s why it’d have been all charm had she and Mandela finally met.

However, all the above rabble rousing notwithstanding, there is no denying that Margaret Thatcher was one of the few defining figures of British politics. She pulled a tottering UK economy of the 1970s by its bootstraps and placed it back among the stable and strong economies of Europe. And in the triumvirate of her, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, they tamed Communism. Whether the world is better off for being unipolar, that’s another story.

To quote Cameron again: “They say that cometh the hour, cometh the man… 1979 came the hour, and came The Lady.” The Iron Lady came and made Britain great again.

And we, as kith to Britain, should rejoice in the sunshine of her life that was. May Margaret’s soul rest in eternal peace!

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