I SUSPECT most of us so-called hard-boiled African scribes were struck by a bolt of lightning-like skepticism when we saw TV footage of Hosni Mubarak, lying on a stretcher.
He responded in a relatively steady voice, to charges brought against him — ultimately — by the people of Egypt.
He denied any corruption and ordering the killing of mostly young Egyptians demonstrating against his 30 years of almost total brutal rule.
His erstwhile military cronies are now in charge of the country, months after he had ordered the young people shot for protesting loudly against his rule.
A commentator on Aljazeera TV suggested this was a huge charade: the trial would go on forever.
Mubarak would not get his comeuppance — not as long as his cronies are still in charge of the country.
Something might happen after a democratic election replaces the soldiers with a civilian government that is answerable only to the electorate.
Who could determine when that might be?
Others took the view that there was history in the making here: Perhaps for the first time in Africa — and even among the Arabs — a brutal dictator would be punished for his misdeeds.
The whole world would be waiting to see if a revolution, much-praised among many people around the world, would end in total victory for the people.
It would most certainly be a breath-taking occasion for all humankind.
Would it eclipse the Nuremberg trials after World War II?
Mubarak would not end up like Idi Amin, Joseph Mobutu, Sani Abacha, Jean-Badel Bokassa, Mohamed Siad Barre and Hastings Kamuzu Banda did.
He would be given a chance to defend himself.
It would be a defence against the indefensible, but he would have a shot at it.
Mubarak’s spectacular fall from grace will have its place in the African annals of political infamy.
It must have settled differently with many Africans – from Cape to Cairo.
This would depend on their political proclivities.
The diehard pan-Africanists would say, with their customary smirk: “What would expect from an imperialist stooge?”
To them, Mubarak’s fall was the imperialists’ work.
But Muammar Gadaffi, Ben Ali, the rulers of Yemen, Algeria and Bahrain might not react so smugly.
It’s probable that other African leaders, avowed Christians, might experience a queasy sensation of someone walking on their grave.
Only a few could declare with braggadocio: “That would never happen to me!” But the neutral among us would point to the eerie similarities between their rule and that of Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gadaffi.
But they might still scoff with: “My people love me — they all love me!”
For me, Mubarak’s plight has a rather personal tinge, as I have mentioned elsewhere.
I met him in the flesh in 1978 in Cairo. He was No.2 to Anwar Sadat who was assassinated a few years later.
It was inevitable that I would follow closely his political career as Sadat’s successor.
My interest in Egypt intensified after that visit, during which I saw the Pyramids for the first time.
I oohed! when we were taken there.
My second visit to Egypt was in 2007 — on my way to Libya, to see Gadaffi.
As I watched Mubarak on TV this month, I remembered a man in a sparkling white military uniform, smiling broadly as we heard Anwar Sadat hold forth on African unity and related subjects.
We were attending an editors’ conference, sponsored by the US government. Egypt didn’t have a free media, either under Sadat or Mubarak. I doubt that our deliberations on the key role of a free media in a democracy had any significant impact after we left.
By 1978, I had had my own misadventures with the government of Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia.
I had been reinstated as deputy editor-in-chief of Times newspapers, having spent almost two years in the wilderness.
Kaunda himself fared far better.
He lost an election to Frederick Chiluba in 1991 — after 27 years of one-party rule.
There must be a few lessons for others in his example, as there must be in the even finer examples set by Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, both of Botswana — and Nelson Mandela.
Bill Saidi is a veteran journalist based in Harare