By Kunle Sanyaolu
It is a hard nut to swallow for Robert Gabriel Mugabe, a man who started on a humble note as a teacher, became a revolutionary, fought for his country, Zimbabwe’s independence and domination from white minority rule, got imprisoned, toughened and eventually won, along with other notable revolutionaries, the much sought victory for black majority rule in the land-locked country in Southern Africa.
For much of his political career, Mugabe, 93, is easily an icon. He was steadfast, tenacious and firm in his belief that Zimbabwe belongs to Zimbabweans, particularly the indigenous black; and nothing should happen to make the majority subservient to the white settlers/minority. Having won that victory in 1980 when he became the first, and behold, the only post-independence President of Zimbabwe, his profile rose sharply as he extended an arm of fellowship to the white minority, urging them to forget the past, and join him in building a new, stronger Zimbabwe.
How much he was able to achieve by his statesmanlike political rhetoric is a matter of personal conjectures. But his rating, high or low, was never going to be constant. It was bound to vary with time and circumstances. Mugabe, probably in euphoria of accomplishment and encomiums, failed to recognise the effect of time on his own timeline, at a huge cost for himself and his country.
First, he refused to bow out when the ovation was loudest. He believed no one else was more qualified than him to hold Zimbabwe together; and he therefore ensured that, while donning a garb of democracy, nobody but him won the various elections he and his party arranged for the country over the 37 years of his rule. He not only won the elections, if they can be so-called, he won by landslides, often polling more than 95 percent of total votes, where he had opponents at all. Over the years, Mugabe became a full-blown authoritarian.
Many people now remember only the grey side of his reign – the political tension, the harassment of opponents, the economic downturn, the hyper-inflation and the overall uncertainty that has characterised Zimbabwe for the past 10 years.
Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary was to capture this in a briefing to the House of Commons thus: “Mugabe’s consuming ambition was always to deny the people their chance. The House of Commons will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office. The election he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents, the illegal seizure of land leading to the worst hyper-inflation in recorded history.”
The Mugabe experience is a fine example of the adage that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. For all his achievements as a nationalist, revolutionary, president and perhaps statesman, Mugabe succumbed to personal greed. He became intoxicated and corrupt in power, and ended up as a key player in the dastard international perception of Africa as a continent of sit-tight leaders. That is a shame!
Unfortunately, having forced the Army to intervene in a power tussle in which he sacked his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa (75 years), who subsequently fled to neighbouring South Africa, Mugabe has single-handedly again reopened the aberration of military intervention in government in Africa. Luckily, the Zimbabwe Army, led by General Chiwenga, has declined the temptation to install themselves in power; opting instead to invite Mnangag as Acting President while holding Mugabe in a house arrest.
The move may ultimately halt the ambition of Mugabe and his wife, Grace, to install Grace as his successor, an action that would have brought out the country almost as a monarch of sort. The arrangement is less than wholesome in a democracy, but it is perhaps a way out of the dilemma for Zimbabwe. The Army’s excuse that it was simply targeting criminals who surround Mugabe and who are causing social and economic suffering in the country is yet another unconvincing lie; but again it leaves open hope of a peaceful settlement of the Mugabe era.
The potentials are numerous: First an election had been scheduled for the first half of next year. Zimbabwe should work unflinchingly towards the date.
Second, Zimbabweans are not unduly alarmed about what is happening to the only person many of them have ever known as their president, so long as nothing untoward happens to him. So far, the Army is leaving no chance of any accident. But with his age of 93 years, they cannot be too careful.
And lastly, the international community’s muted voice against non-interference by soldiers is effectively overwhelmed by their desire that Mugabe should be rested while Zimbabwe moves on.
●Sanyaolu, a Lagos-based lawyer, is Chairman of Editorial Board,Everyday.ng