By Garth A. Rattray
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been both sanctified and demonised, depending on which side of the sociopolitico-racial divide you stand.
Mugabe was born in Rhodesia (the former name for Zimbabwe) in February 1924. He was so agitated by the blatant discrimination, dominance of the Caucasian minority, and the consequent subservience of his African countrymen that he led the liberation movement which eventually overthrew that unjust government in 1980. He won the following general election easily and, in spite of his waning popularity, he has managed to remain in power (of one sort or the other and by one means or the other) since then.
In 1996, when he was still highly respected, admired and seen by many nations as an honourable man and a hero of sorts, Mr Mugabe visited our island and was inducted into the Order of Jamaica. I learnt, from a recent Jamaica Observer feature piece by Howard Campbell, that there was, and still is, a strong liking for reggae in Zimbabwe and that several of our artistes/entertainers have been the recipients of superb treatment there.
In spite of the questionable techniques employed by Mr Mugabe to remain at the helm of power, I can't recall our government issuing any official statement expressing suspicion of dirty politics or disappointment in Mr Mugabe's actions at any time.
It was, therefore, nothing short of astounding that he should be reported as referring to Jamaica as a place where "... they have freedom to smoke marijuana, men are always drunk, and universities are full of women. The men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some are dreadlocked. Let us not go there".
Naturally, while this administration sought to verify the authenticity of this ridiculous falsehood and shocking betrayal of friendship, many called for an official government statement condemning Mr Mugabe's utterance and cancelling of his membership in the Order of Jamaica that was bestowed upon him.
Then it dawned on me: Even if it turns out that the reports of his utterances are accurate, are we prejudging Mr Mugabe? After all, he is 88 years old, the true state of his health is unknown, and he is prone to several physical problems that can affect his cognition.
I recall that while being questioned (in the Tower Commission - December 2, 1986) about his role in authorising the arms deal in the infamous Iran-Contra affair, United States President Ronald Reagan repeatedly said that he was unable to recall several vital facts. Observers snickered, "Yeah, right!". However, by 1994, after his annual visit to the Mayo Clinic, at 83 years of age, he announced to the world that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (the commonest cause of dementia).
Is it, therefore, possible that Mr Reagan was in its early stages in 1986? And, at 88 years old, could it be that Mr Mugabe is experiencing difficulty with his memory, thinking and behaviour?
High risk of Alzheimer's
The Mayo Clinic is quoted as informing us that: "Increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is not a part of normal ageing, but your risk increases greatly as you grow older. After you reach age 65, your risk of developing the disease doubles about every five years. Nearly half of those over age 85 have Alzheimer's."
Thanks to modern medicine, our population is ageing, but Alzheimer's disease is becoming more common.
World Alzheimer's Day is being observed on September 21, and the Alliance On Ageing (Jamaica) will be staging a public lecture on that day at the Jamaica Library Service headquarters (2 Tom Redcam Avenue, Kingston 2) at 6:30 p.m. sharp. The topic is, 'Dementia: Together Forever'. The guest speaker will be psychiatrist, Dr Anthony Allen.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.