Powell understood Africa, was a trusted colleague — Obasanjo
Colin Powell

*He left indelible imprint in the sands of time —Jonathan

By James Ogunnaike, with agency reports

Colin Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants who became a US war hero and the first clack secretary of state but saw his legacy tarnished when he made the case for war in Iraq in 2003, died yesterday of COVID-19 complications at 84.

Reacting to his death, former Nigerian President and High Representative of the African Union in the Horn of Africa, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, described Powell as one who understood Africa during his lifetime, while ex-President Goodluck Jonathan said he was a renowned United States public servant and great leader who left solid and indelible footprints in the sands of time.

The retired four-star general and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served four presidents, made his reputation as a man of honor distant from the political fray — an asset in the corridors of power.

READ ALSO: Former President Jonathan pays tribute to Colin Powell

“General Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,” George W. Bush said as he announced Colin Powell’s nomination as secretary of state in 2000.

“In directness of speech, his towering integrity, his deep respect for our democracy, and his soldier’s sense of duty and honor, Colin Powell demonstrates … qualities that will make him a great representative of all the people of this country.”

But he found it hard to live down his infamous February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the evidence he presented was later proven to be false.

“It’s a blot… and will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now,” Powell said in a 2005 interview with ABC News.

From Harlem to Vietnam

Born April 5, 1937 in Harlem, Powell’s “American Journey” — the title of his autobiography — started in New York, where he grew up and earned a degree in geology.

He also participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college, and upon his graduation in June 1958, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army, and was posted in what was then West Germany.

Powell completed two tours of duty in Vietnam — in 1962-63 as one of John F Kennedy’s thousands of military advisors, and again in 1968-69 to investigate the My Lai massacre.

He earned a Purple Heart, but also faced questions about the tone of his report into the hundreds of deaths at My Lai, which to some seemed to dismiss any claims of wrongdoing.

“I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai. I got there after My Lai happened,” he told interviewer Larry King in 2004.

“So, in war, these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they are still to be deplored.”

Born to serve

Back in Washington, he quickly rose through the ranks to the pinnacle of the national security establishment, serving Ronald Reagan as national security advisor, and both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1989-93.

Powell’s experiences in Vietnam as a young soldier led him to develop the so-called “Powell Doctrine,” which said that if the United States must intervene in a foreign conflict, it should deploy overwhelming force based on clear political objectives.

For many Americans, he was the public face of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq.

Powell was initially lukewarm about going into the country, but his reputation soared in the aftermath of the blitzkrieg that ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

For a while, he even considered a run for the presidency.

Reacting yesterday, Obasanjo said the late Powell was, indeed, a trusted colleague and Comrade-in-arm, whose closeness as an African-American with the mother Africa assisted in the growth of the continent.

In release by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, Obasanjo said:  “General Powell’s tenure in office marked a significant departure from the traditional relations between Africa and the United States.

“He was Secretary of State under the administration of President George W. Bush, Jnr, part of the time I was President of Nigeria. He was not just an African-American, he was an African-American who understood Africa. That is what I found in him when he was Secretary of State.

“With him, among others, I have always seen advantage in the closeness of the African-Americans with the mother Africa. It is mutually good and beneficial for the Africans at home and for our brothers and sisters in diaspora in the US, Caribbean or Southern America.

“I cherished our relationship for the good of humanity in general and especially for the good of our race which collectively is the most abused, despised and disregarded race in modern history. He was indeed a trusted colleague and Comrade-in-Arm,” Obasanjo said.

The former President noted that the news of Powell’s death was received with sadness, stressing that, “his death is a great loss not only to his immediate family and to the United States of America but also to the entire world.

“Though the world, particularly Africa, would miss him, his legacies would continue to inspire many to reach the highest points of their productive, political and creative abilities. May God grant his soul perfect peace and rest,” Obasanjo stated.

On his part, former President Goodluck Jonathan, while paying tribute to the late General, said Powell’s stellar military career paved the way for other African Americans to reach for the top, adding that he articulated a new paradigm for engaging in military action.

He said:  “Until the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, Colin Powel was the highest ranking African American to have served in the public sector of the United States. In that capacity, he served as a beacon of hope and was a pride of the Black race.’’

“His stellar military career, which saw him become the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which pivoted him to also becoming the first US Secretary of State of colour, paved the way for other African Americans to reach for the top.

“His articulation of the Powell Doctrine gave the United States, and the world at large, a new paradigm for engaging in military action with honour and decorum.

“As Secretary of State, he was known for his tactful management of America’s foreign relations, of which he extended a right hand of fellowship to the Yar’adua administration when I was Vice President.

“His death at 84 after a long, useful and fulfilled life, is mourned by my family and I, as well as the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation.

“He left solid and indelible footprints in the sands of time, and would be greatly missed. Our prayers are with his family at this trying time for them.”

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