I join millions of others around the globe in mourning former UK Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who died last Monday. She was one of the most outstanding leaders of the 20th century whose ideas, principles and policies helped to define today’s world.
As the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, she strengthened considerably the belief that women could occupy high political office successfully. Many Africans may remember her with mixed feelings, considering her stance on apartheid South Africa, but, no doubt, the liberal economic paradigm that she and her contemporary, President Ronald Reagan of the United States, pushed in the 1980s, formed the ideological basis for the economic reforms that took place on our own continent, paving the way for freer, more competitive markets in Africa.
We cannot also write the history of the wind of democratic change that blew throughout the African continent in the 1990s, which was influenced by the collapse of world communism, without some notable reference to the key role that these two Western leaders played in bringing the Cold War to an end.
In the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher “took a country that was on its knees and made Britain stand tall again.” She eagerly pursued the aims of a property-owning democracy, helping more ordinary Britons to own their own homes and have shares in their nation’s wealth, thereby expanding significantly the UK middle-class within a generation.
I admired Baroness Thatcher because she was a patriotic leader of conviction, who did things not because they were necessarily popular, but because she believed they would be good for her country in the long run. It made her inevitably a highly controversial figure.
I draw inspiration from the fact that even though she was, arguably, among the most radical leaders of the 20th century, who had the courage to fight unpopular battles against established traditions that stood in the way of progress, she lived to become the longest serving leader of her country, winning three democratic elections in the process.
She showed that a leader could take bold and far-reaching decisions and still succeed in competitive politics. To her children, Mark and Carol, my condolences. To the Conservative Party, my sympathies. And, to the people of Britain, I join you in celebrating a woman who helped turn the world, even if she was not much for turning, herself. She will be forever remembered.