Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Valentine Strasser; Africa's youngest dictator is now a pauper

Valentine Strasser at 25 when he took over the leadership of Sierra Leone
 
Valentine Strasser. If you weren't conversant with West African politics in the early 90s to the mid-90s, then there are chances that you do not know who this isIt's quite understandable. During this period, West Africa had its fair share of military dictators/autocratic rulers from Ibrahim Babaginda, J.J Rawlings, Sani Abacha, Charles Taylor, and others.
 
Tucked somewhere in this all-star list of warlords, generals and generals turned civilian rulers is Valentine Strasser who holds the continental record of being Africa's youngest military ruler. Valentine Strasser came into power on April 29, 1992, at the age of 25. The junior military ruler along with six other young military officers led the charge to overthrow the Sierra Leonean government headed by Joseph Saidu Momoh
 
To put things in perspective, Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria (the most populous country in Africa) came into power when he was 32 years old. J.J Rawlings of Ghana came into power at the age of 31.
Just like every other typical coup in Africa, the new military junta in Sierra Leone were welcomed by the masses who came out on the streets and celebrated the youthful soldiers.
 
Under Saidu Momoh's leadership, the economy of Sierra Leone fared badly. There was hardly gas and water for the country's citizens and civil servants were owed months of salaries.
Known as 'The Boys', the leading officers in the coup formed the National Provisional Ruling Council to rule the country. The early months of the military rule were positive. The economy bounced back and people were generally happy. Strasser and his gang even planned to hand over to a democratically elected government. 
 
The optimism and vigour that youth brings also have its disadvantages. The government showed a lot of youthful exuberance, appearing at public events in blazers and aviators.
 
Strasser was chosen to rule Sierra Leone, not because he was smart or authoritative but because he was one of the few who actually went to secondary school, and could speak English.
 
Unfortunately, the educational system in Sierra Leone was so bad that Strasser's spoken English was weak. Because of Valentine Strasser's lack of educational polish, he was shy at international gatherings. He once blew off a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II because he was reportedly too shy.
 
Also, Valentine Strasser and the rest of the boys behaved like spoilt kids. They drove flashy cars, sold diamonds abroad and lived lavish lifestyles, acts that they condemned the previous administration for
 
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Eight months after the coup, the honeymoon was over for Sierra Leone. In the month of December, the military junta executed twenty-nine men accused of plotting a coup.
 
Sierra Leone would fall back to the dark times with the economy falling again, 'The Boys' were accused of corruption and embezzlement. In a bid to appease the international community, the military administration planned to conduct elections in 1996.
 
Just like J.J Rawlings and Sani Abacha, Strasser put himself forward as a presidential candidate which angered a lot of people. As the nation tumbled further, Valentine Strasser was ousted as the leader of Sierra Leone by his 32-year-old deputy Maada Bio.
 
Strasser wasn't killed but flown out to Guinea. The young leader and his fellow members who were kicked out were involved in a deal with the United Nations to allow them to study in England.
 
Valentine Strasser studied at the University of Warwick in Coventry but did not finish due to protests about a military dictator and a human rights violator to study in England.
 
Broke and nowhere to go, Strasser descended into alcohol and jumped from couch to couch. In 2000, he left England for Gambia but his time there was troublesome. He was attacked by relatives of one of the people that were killed on the beach in 1992.
 
The Gambian government accused him of plotting a coup and deported him. This time around, the United Kingdom did not take him in. He had no other place to go other than back home, Sierra Leone.
 
Valentine Strasser now lives in his mother's old white house in Grafton, Sierra Leone. Now 49 years old, the former military dictator now lives in seclusion, mocked by little boys who cannot believe that the continent's youngest ruler now wears rags.
 
 
Source: Pulse

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