In the Sunday Nation newspaper of 8/02/2015 (yesterday), renown columnist Mutiga Murithi penned a controversial article on the legacy of president Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
On reading the title of his article, ‘Mugabe is a hero to many…’ I had every reason to think that Mutiga was simply playing satire but I was rudely proved wrong soon enough.
As I read further, It became apparent that the writer was either on a mission to save Mugabe’s shattered legacy or was simply playing the devil’s advocate to stimulate debate for the sake of debate. I pray he intended the latter because the repercussions of the former are too grave to fathom.
When discussing Mugabe, we find ourselves facing the temptation to give him a small benefit of doubt based on two circumstances. The first dividend derives from his role in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle for which he was imprisoned for 11 years.
Robert Mugabe fought a long liberation struggle against an oppressive white minority regime led by imperialist Ian Smith. For this struggle he earned a place at the high table of African greats such as Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba and many other founding fathers.
The question at hand is whether Mugabe should still maintain his position at this high table or whether his glaring failures in leading Zimbabwe disqualify him from sitting on the august council of Africa’s venerable patriarchs.
The second reason for cutting Mugabe some slack is his consistency in churning out venomous anti-western rhetoric. When you watch the videos of Mugabe at the UN general assembly one is often tempted to applaud him for the guts ‘to stand up to the west’. Truth be told when Mugabe criticizes the composition of the UN security council , you can hardly fault him for it.
Is Mugabe’s criticism based on a genuine love for Africa and Zimbabwe? should Africa hail Robert Mugabe as a great pan-africanist who had the courage to repossess stolen land from white Zimbabweans? Should we band around Mugabe in telling off the western media and its machinery for carrying on with sustained propaganda to bring down a great African? Are all the woes facing Zimbabwe a result of western sanctions? Is Mugabe the natural heir to the throne of Nelson Mandela?
Well the answers lie in what you find in a careful dissection of the style of Mugabe’s leadership since the independence of Zimbabwe.
The first and most important part of Mugabe’s troubled legacy is that he has presided over Zimbabwe for the past 35 donkey years. This implies that he has been living in statehouse for longer than most of us have lived on earth. This further means that a young man of my age living in Zimbabwe has only known one president, the founding father.
During the period of Mugabe’s presidency; Kenya has had 3 different presidents, the US has had five presidents while Britain has had 5 prime ministers and south Africa has had 5 different presidents, four of them post-independence.
Well someone will ask, what is the big deal? He is voted by the people of Zimbabwe. What business do we have interfering with the internal affairs of a sovereign nation?
The response is easy. Even a casual glance at the history of Zimbabwe reveals that Mugabe has run one of the most undemocratic, repressive regimes known to mankind.
Soon after Independence, Mugabe went on a mission to ruthlessly crush his opponents using the most barbaric means imaginable.
The Mugabe regime employed state apparatus and mercenaries to instill terror in the opposition stronghold of matebeleland through a campaign that was christened ‘GUKURAHUNDI’ (the sweeping away of rubbish). Farms were destroyed and a food embargo slapped on the opposition regions that led to deaths of tens of thousands from systematic starvation. This inhumane policy from the 80s was repeated in the 2000s when the government stopped food from reaching MDC supporters. The then catholic archbishop of Bulawayo hit out at the Mugabe regime accusing it of sacrificing peoples lives for the sake of political power.
This authoritarian style in the 1980s silenced ZAPU and its leader Joshua Nkomo .A repeat of similar tactics in the 2000s disabled the Movement for Democratic Change – MDC and its leader Morgan TSVANGIRAI. This has paved the way for a one party state (official or de facto) in which Mugabe is Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is Mugabe – the King, the judge and the law.
The political philosophy of Mugabe in Zimbabwe has been very clear; Anybody who does not support ZANU-PF is not just a political enemy but an animal that does not deserve to live. After the 1985 election, Mugabe said of those who had not voted for his party, ‘We will kill those snakes among us, we will smash them completely’.
Intolerance and violence in Zimbabwe follows the same script and often reaches a zenith during elections. It is doubtful whether Zimbabweans have ever had a single democratic election since their independence election back in 1979.
Although Mugabe was thought of as a socialist, his rule has exposed a fascist with a natural contempt for the poor whose poverty has been exacerbated by his rule. Following the 2005 parliamentary elections, the government of Mugabe launched another operation dubbed ‘MURAMBATSVINA’ in which armed police and youth militia were mobilized to evict the inhabitants of Harares slums and raze their homes. This operation also targeted hawkers and flower vendors in Harares CBD. A United Nations investigation established that more than 700,000 mostly poor Zimbabweans lost their homes and 32,000 mostly small businesses were destroyed. The crime of these poor souls being that they had voted for the opposition in the 2005 election.
You cannot talk of a democratic election in an environment in which opposition supporters are rounded up, whipped and even killed. How can any political party campaign against a president who has changed the law to make it impossible to criticize? How can it be a free election when the president changes an election from a celebration of democracy into a war with real casualties? . How are the people supposed to cast votes freely when the army commanders declare that they will not recognize any other victory apart from a win by the sitting president?
Ahead of the 2008 general election in Zimbabwe, the main opposition party could not even hold a political rally and any attempt to do so was met with state sanctioned police brutality. Robert Mugabe’s main opponent was physically assaulted in a shameful show of impunity. Mugabe himself admitted that he had instructed the police to beat tsvangirai a lot. There was so much violence in this election that the opposition leader withdrew his candidature from the second round even after he had led in the first round. Many observers support the claim by the MDC that Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round of the Zimbabwe presidential election in 2008 but the electoral commission fixed the result at 47.5% for Morgan and 43% for Mugabe to force a re-run.
Our respect for Robert Mugabe should be limited to his age and his role in the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe. However , it is too late in the day to save his legacy.
The true spirit of pan-africanism must be accurate on the values espoused by the majority of africans. It must acknowledge that there is no substitute for a democratic Africa. Our continent has so many great leaders that we should not appear as though we are desperate for role models.
The final script of the Mugabe legacy will undoubtedly be written by the people of Zimbabwe. However it is clear to us that Robert Mugabe failed to create a democratic, economically prosperous nation out of Zimbabwe.