Since 1980 Robert Gabriel Mugabe was Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe was Mugabe Gabriel Robert. The grand old man of 93 years had been ruling the former Rhodesia for 37 uninterrupted years. He was reputed to be the oldest President in the world! Africa can afford, of course, to be first in matters of this kind where history is negatively made! Mugabe was synonymous with both glory and infamy. Glory in the sense that he was one of the most prominent veteran freedom fighters of his generation that fought for and obtained national independence for the Southern African country. Glory, also, in the sense that he brutally seized the arable lands of some White supremacist farmers and gave same to the natives. His popularity soared at home and the West became conscious of Mugabism.
But while he was lauded at home and abroad for having the courage and intrepid determination to do what was thought impossible he ruined the Zimbabwean economy in the process. As he organized the popular land grabs from the former colonial masters the imperialists and neo-colonialists waged an unrelenting economic ‘war’ that turned the national economy into a basket case. Yet Mugabe doggedly refused to back down.
1982: Military action begins in Matabeleland against perceived uprising; government is accused of killing thousands of civilians
The defunct national currency, the Zimdollars, was completely annihilated with inflation running at a time up to 40 million percent! The major global currencies (Dollars, Euro, Yen, Pounds) became the convenient replacement for a Zimdollars reduced to a tissue paper. Things were so rough and tough that a loaf of bread or a tin of milk could be bought in a supermarket for as much as a billion dollars of the local currency! The former “food basket” of Africa suddenly became the clear example of a failed state where food security was non-existent. Millions of Zimbabweans fled to neighboring countries in the event of the unprecedented economic decline.
Infamy, on the other hand, in the sense that his longevity in power must have been attributed to or interpreted by him or his cronies as evidence of his invincibility and/or providential benevolence. Infamy in the sense that the good old Bob, in his magniloquent best, became arrogant, murderous and power-drunk. Infamy in the sense that under his watch Zimbabwe lost its innocence and became wild attracting only zoo tourists. We were hearing tales like visiting foreign hunters killing revered lions and all that crap!
Some weeks back Mugabe made international headlines as usual. But this time, not the images of himself online napping away like a toddler during crucial international meetings nor his inability to lift a shovel during a ground-breaking project presentation. Not even the scandals involving Grace, his politically-ambitious wife, that had provoked the global media attention. This time he had fired unceremoniously the then Vice-President and now Interim President, Emmerson Mnangagwa. As usual, the nonagenarian had risen in sharp defense of his action accusing his former deputy of disloyalty or plotting to succeed him — as if ambition or disloyalty is a crime!
Addressing the ZANU-PF party faithful and his supporters Mugabe had indicated that Mnangagwa had wished him dead by going to the extreme extent of going over to a spiritual church in town and asking the prophets found there when the old Bob would die! According to him, the prophets had answered his erstwhile deputy that he would die before the fallen President! For this reason and the need to make a way for Grace to be put in the bigger picture in the event of Mugabe dropping dead Mnangagwa must be thrown off the executive train in motion. Before Comrade Mugabe wielded the big stick by sacking Mnangagwa, a former Intelligence Chief, Grace had been positioning herself to succeed her aged husband. And to achieve her objective no one was spared of her presidential tantrums and antagonisms. She appeared to be exploiting the Mugabe muddle to her full advantage.
However, the recent events in Harare leading to yesterday’s swearing-in of Mnangagwa as Interim President had shown clearly that Mugabe must have committed a political harakiri and made the greatest mistake of his presidential career by dismissing the “Crocodile”. Last week the Generals in the Zimbabwean Army had ordered the military boys to invade the streets of the capital at dusk with tanks and ammunition. Seizing the state TV they went on air at dawn to announce a martial operation aimed at neutralizing the “criminals” around ex-President Robert Mugabe.
They tactically refused to label it a coup d’etat against the Lord of Harare fearing regional or international repercussions or consequences. But it was a popular action supported by a majority of Zimbabweans who demonstrated on the streets calling on Mugabe to quit. Following the strategic military uprising, some of Mugabe’s Ministers and Advisers were promptly arrested with Mugabe himself respectfully placed under house arrest. After days of mutual negotiations involving the mutineers, the South Africa envoys and Mugabe himself an accord seemed to have been found. When Mugabe went on the state TV to announce his supposed resignation he shocked everyone by not uttering any word that resembled resignation!
Rather, he told his stupefied compatriots that he would be presiding over the ZANU-PF caucus meeting in December even when the ruling party had dropped him officially as the Chairman! Watching Mugabe on the television as he made the speech moved one to tears. He sounded not only empty and fagged out but he was totally disconnected from reality and the world we were living in. Indeed he was looking supremely paranoid and cast a pitiful image of a man made mad by power! Absolute power had corrupted Mugabe so much that he envisaged no end anymore.
Demystified by the military, disowned by his own party and faced with the disgraceful prospect of parliamentary impeachment Mugabe finally capitulated few days ago by throwing in the towel. He sent a letter to that effect to the President of the National Assembly as prescribed by the constitution. Zimbabwe was thus ‘liberated’ yet again like in 1980. The difference between then and now is that 37 years ago we witnessed a change in flag, and change in rulership by the minority white race as a symbol of new leadership by the majority black population. But now an entrenched strongman, in his blackness and senility, was made to abdicate power against his wish.
For a dotard, a great-grandfather to have failed to quit when the ovation was loudest had exposed Mugabe as a staunch believer in unproductive gerontocracy. The Mugabe muddle in Harare represented nothing but a continental shame. But it goes beyond that. It interrogates our collective attitude towards power and life after same. Besides, it exposes our democratic backwardness and progressive failure as a people naturally created black in pigmentation.
We have got a long list of dictators or gerontocrats (living or dead) in power across the African continent. We shall just cite some instances to underscore a salient point. In Cameroun President Paul Biya, 84, is generally regarded as one of Africa’s most entrenched leaders. He has effortlessly spent 35 years in power and he is not in any mood of abdicating power soon in honorable retirement. Perhaps it can only take the grim reaper to put ‘asunder’ between him and power! In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, 73, is still holding on to power for 31 years and still counting. Quitting might come only after the intervention of death going by his attitude towards power.
Gnassingbe Eyadema spent decades in power in Togo and died exercising same. Today his son, Faure, is still ruling the Togolese amidst fierce resistance by the organized opposition. Felix Houphouet-Boigny ruled Cote d’Ivoire for 33 uninterrupted years before dying in power in 1993. (Though his case is a bit different given his landmark achievements and reverence in Abidjan and elsewhere across the country). Omar Bongo died in power in Gabon and today Ali, his controversial ‘son’, is still trying to continue the Bongo dynastic dominion despite a Jean Ping waging some fruitless opposition. Lansana Conte ruled Guinea-Conakry till he succumbed to death after a protracted illness whose nature no one knew anything about.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe would definitely be remembered, long after his imminent demise, for many things — good or bad. He would be remembered for being that fiery liberator turned destroyer; for the violence employed in the otherwise laudable land re-distribution scheme. He would be remembered for ordering the brutal massacre of thousands of his compatriots in Matabeleland and Lupanda. Above all, however, he would never be forgotten for his Jezebel, Grace, of a wife whose graceless acts brought about his downfall from grace to grass; from hero to zero!
But now that Emmerson Mnangagwa has been able to out-maneuver the old fox it is left to be seen how he would make democracy work in Zimbabwe. The rot left behind by Mugabe is enormous even though we tend to ignore that the new Interim President was the right-hand man of the retired President during his decades in power. They committed the atrocities together!
What is required right now, now that Mugabe and Grace have been pushed out of the presidential bus, is for the transition programme to be drawn up and made public. Re-establishing true democracy remains a task that must be executed without compromise. Zimbabwe deserves a new beginning and Zimbabweans deserve to be given another opportunity to make their lives better.