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From Trump, dictators, to Emilio: ‘Sunset’ after state houses

By Tony Mochama | February 14th 2021
Former US President Donald Trump and ex-first lady Melania Trump. [Reuters]

When Jimmy Carter left the Joint Base Andrews on January 20, 1981, Air Force One, (the state-of-the-art presidential jet) flew the humble ex-president to Georgia, where he was driven by a pick-up truck to his farm on the rural outskirts of the Peach State, where he grew acres of peanuts.

There, he discovered that the trustees he’d left in charge during his one term in the White House had not only run the farm to the ground, but also left him a million dollars in the red.

In other words, the 39th President of the United States was now literally earning peanuts! Flash forward 40 years later. This weekend, the second impeachment trial of Donald J Trump wraps up in the Senate.

Instead of Trump chasing after little white golf balls on the rolling greens of his golf course in Mar-a-Lago, it has been reported that all week he has been following the trial in a large viewing room in his Florida home, sometimes standing up to scream at his ‘SOB’ lawyers on TV.

As Trump describes his West Palm Beach mansion in his book ‘The Art of the Deal,’ “it was first built in the early 1920s by Majorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal fortune).

“Set on twenty acres that face both the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth, the 118 room house took four years to build. Boatloads of Dorian stone were shipped from Italy for the exterior walls, and 36,000 Spanish tiles dating back to the fifteenth century were used on the exterior and the interior. At some point, the Post Foundation leased it free as a presidential retreat.”

“Buying Mar-a-Lago was a great deal (for $15 million in 1986),” Trump says in the book, before adding one of his ‘I don’t need the money’ lies: “Even though I bought it to live in it, not as a real estate investment.”

The fact is that Trump did turn the surrounding acreage of the property into a golf course and resort investment, so that he is in effect retiring into his own resort, and not quite just his house.

Concordia University literature professor Mikhail Iossel and New Yorker writer told The Standard: “For all the ‘seriousness’ with which that quack Trump took the job, you might as well have had Donald Duck (the cartoon character) chilling in that chair, these last four years. No one ever wants to see that awful cartoon character back in the hallowed Oval Office.”

Trump could of course go back to doing business in his Brioni suits, or return to the TV screen in a reality show (called ‘Ex-President’) or we could even see him behind bars (convict #45001).

With Trump and the reality show he calls ‘life’, one can never tell what’s the sequel. Or he could spend the rest of his days doing what he should be doing as a retired septuagenarian: play rounds of golf at the courses of Mar-a-Lago, and in the club house, brag to guests and caddies about what a ‘great life I have had,’ like the cad he is, long before he was a candidate.

To circle our Carter story, bankrupt peanut farmer Jimmy Carter threw in the towel on his farm in 1981 and founded the Carter Center, for democracy and humanitarian habitats, that has gone on to oversee 96 elections in 40 years, including in Kenya. That effort went on to win retired President Carter the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Giving speeches

Of the retired American presidents still alive, the 42nd one, Bill Clinton, has gone on to make a fortune of 150 million bucks (Sh16 billion) by giving speeches to government agencies, big corporations and philanthropic organisations throughout the Western hemisphere these last 20 years, with his average asking price being $200,000 (Sh22 million) an appearance.

George W Bush, or ‘43’ (his late father was Bush ’41), now 74 years old, is the best example of ‘retire.’ He reads (mostly presidential biographies) for pleasure, golfs for leisure, rides mountain bikes for exercise, attends Texas Rangers’ baseball games weekends (he’s a part owner of the team) and has discovered a belated passion for painting, at which critics concur he’s quite good.

Barack Obama, a talented writer in his own right, dedicated his post-presidential time to writing volume one of the memoirs that his publishers Penguin Random House had paid a jaw-dropping $40 million advance (Sh4.4 billion) for, soon after he left the White House in 2016.

‘A Promised Land’ has already returned quarter of that advance since its release two months ago, and Obama is said to be working on the second volume of these excellent memoirs.

Across the Atlantic from Washington DC, 8,485km away in Accra, Ghana, we had the State funeral of Jerry John Rawlings (who passed away of Covid-19) last month. JJ Rawlings is a rare example of a retired African president who spent his last 20 years as both a UN Eminent Person and AU Special Envoy, brokering diplomacy across the continent, from Somalia to Burkina Faso.

This is more amazing when you consider that the former flight lieutenant came to power via a second coup in 1981, ruled as leader of a military junta until 1992 then fairly won organised elections to stay in power as President of Ghana until the year 2000.

The only other African president to come to power through a coup d’etat and then as a civilian democratic president was Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, good friend of Raila Odinga.

Obasanjo was Head of State in 1976 to 1979, before returning power peacefully to civilians.

Then in 1999, he went from prison to the presidential complex (after the sudden death of dictator Sani Abacha) until his retirement from the post in 2007, after which he became a special envoy for both the AU and UN, including helping Kenya solve the 2008 PEV problem.

Obasanjo also continued his education, first getting a Masters then a PhD in theology.

Having joined the military at 21 because he couldn’t afford the college fees for Ibadan (his father abandoned them years before), Obasanjo joked upon getting his PhD at 80 years old (in 2017) that “I can finally sit with (Wole) Soyinka (his fellow Yoruba) and he listens and respects me when I talk.”

His age-mate, Haile-Mariam Mengistu, who led the murderous Derge regime in Ethiopia from 1977 until he was overthrown in 1991, is not similarly honoured, respected or at all loved.

Having escaped from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe with $3 million (Sh330 million), Mugabe gave Mengistu safe habour in the ironically named Harare suburb of Gunville, his ‘asante’ to the communist butcher from Addis for military support to ZANU from 1978 till 1980 against the racist Smith regime, when Northern Rhodesia got its independence.

Italian journalist Riccardo Orizio has described the former military leader and master of massacres as “living a reclusive, alcoholic life in a small house surrounded by a green lawn, with a low roof like that of an old colonial bungalow and draped in clumps of bougainvillea; with a couple of bodyguards patrolling purposefully outside ever since an attempted assassination on Mengistu in 1995, as he stepped out of the bougainvillea bungalow for a stroll with his wife.”

Following the death of his benefactor Mugabe of cancer in Singapore in 2019, Mengistu may feel the vultures from Ethiopia circling ever closer, as there is still a death sentence awaiting him in Addis should he ever be extradited to Ethiopia by President Mnagagwa.

‘The Great Crocodile’, as the Zimbabwean president is nicknamed, was kind to Comrade Bob, the 94-year old he overthrew politically in the party, with the help of the military in the streets. Perhaps knowing the Very Old Man was in an advanced stage of cancer, Mnagagwa provided a five-bedroom house, 23 staff, personal cars and a billion (in Kenyan) shillings’ fund to Mugabe–who was already fabulously wealthy from public coffers–to show he had ‘gone to retire’.

Old Bob stubbornly, and correctly, insisted he had been overthrown!

Idi Amin, the most infamous of Africa’s 1970 dictators, spent the last quarter century of his life in exile in Saudi Arabia.

In the name of ‘Islamic solidarity’, the Saudis bestowed on him a monthly stipend and three cars–a white Range Rover, a sky blue Cadillac and a Chevrolet Caprice–and Amin spent his days in reception halls of hotels, like a traveler in transit, in the twilight of his life after dictatorship.

He would take tea at the Sofitel Hotel in Jeddah, lunch at the Meridien, go for a swim and massage at the Intercontinental, then sup with his family at a three-star hotel called Al Waha.

Karma sometimes does not catch up with the wicked on earth–and it is to be hoped that he went from Jeddah to Janahamu upon his death in 2003, 24 years after he had fled Uganda.

Jomo Kenyatta is the only Kenyan president to have died in office, and so was ‘promoted to higher glory’ to listen to his beloved Nyakinyua traditional women dancers in ancestral heaven.

Military chopper

Late President Daniel arap Moi, the politically smartest president we’ve ever had, timed his retirement to perfection–handing over the reins of power to the opposition and flying off in a military chopper to Kabarak. He’d split his sunset years between there and Kabarnet Gardens.

His successor, Mwai Kibaki, said he was a ‘guy about town’ when he retired in 2013; and stayed in his Muthaiga home with the golf club nearby.

But ever since the passage of his first wife, Lucy, and the frequent stays of ‘second lady’ Wambui wa Mwai in Nyeri, the ex-president now spends half his time in Mweiga, Sasini; at the mansion perched above the Aberdares Ranges and below Mount Kenya the State built him for half a billion bob.

Uhuru Kenyatta will be barely past 60 when he retires next year in August, as per the Katiba.

And although he has built a palatial home in his native village of Ichaweri, with the finally tarmacked Gatundu South road leading to it, only delusional grapeviners can imagine him living there. The ultimate ‘town boy’, our bet is that he’ll stick to his city home next to State House, currently undergoing renovations.

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