HABIB Bourguiba was the only president of Tunisia to be carted off to the loony bin — that was his humiliating fate.
He wasn’t a particularly brilliant president.
But wherever he is today, he must be wondering: Was my exit more honourable than El Abidine Ben Ali’s?
Ben Ali (pictured right) had to flee the country last week.
If he hadn’t, he probably would have been torn from limb to limb by his own people.
So, he didn’t end up requiring long-term psychiatric treatment until his death.
But he would have ended up somewhere quite ordinary — dead as a door nail, in a cheap coffin, like Romania’s Caecescu.
Ben Ali was not a particularly brilliant president either.
In fact, his dilemma seems to have been that, like others of his ilk, he was so dumb he believed his own people were even dumber than he was.
He thought they believed he was truly Allah’s gift to Tunisia — that was until masses poured out into the streets and demanded that he quit, or else.
By any standards, Ben Ali’s departure was disgraceful.
Even more disgraceful was the fact France would not allow him to begin his shameful asylum days in their country.
President Nicolas Sakorzy told him to try somewhere else.
He ended up in Saudi Arabia, which is where Idi Amin ended up as well.
The two men had many traits in common.
They both despised their own people, hence the long years during which they tormented them and denied them everything they were entitled to — their freedom, their right to achieve the potential of their talents and their right to choose their own leaders.
All over Africa today, the question is being posed: who will be next?
Of the leaders who have hung on to power, against their people’s will, who will be the next to flee their own countries, their tails between their legs?
These people have not allowed free and fair elections in their countries.
If they have been forced to do so, they have somehow contrived to render them meaningless.
They have remained in power, regardless of the voice of the people at the polls.
Some have been in power for more than 30 years, beginning with their country’s independence from colonialism.
In many instances, they have indulged in the same malpractices as Ben Ali.
Their families have looted the country’s wealth.
The spectre of having his family members brought back to Tunisia to face charges of stealing from the people hangs over all of Ben Ali’s relatives.
They might have to seek asylum in a hole in the ground if they hope not to be asked to own up.
In the wake of the events in both the Ivory Coast and Tunisia, many Africans have been asking: how do the leaders manage to brutalise the people for so long without being challenged?
The answer is simple enough: not enough of the people so ill-treated have the courage to lay down their lives in defence of their rights.
Most are contented with what little they have managed to acquire in a country where only the powerful have such acquisitions.
In Tunisia, the young people, the majority of those affected by Ben Ali’s cruelty, led the protests against his regime.
They died in the streets, signalling to their surviving colleagues that that price was worth paying to regain, not just their dignity as Tunisians, but also as human beings.
This must remind most Africans that if there had not been this same willingness to sacrifice everything for a just cause, freedom and independence from colonialism would never have been achieved either.
No pain, no gain — that may be a cliché, but it is as true today as it has ever been.
There were some unkind comments on US President Barack Obama’s congratulations to the Tunisian people after Ben Ali had fled.
Then there were other comments when Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi said he didn’t think the Tunisians had handled their protests properly — he predicted there would be further strife.
Gaddafi has been in power for so long even he must know it is time to quit — before the streets of Tripoli resound to loud protests that he follow Ben Ali’s example — or else.