Mugabe, Burnhan And Lesson
euphoria generated by the resignation of Robert Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe after some thirty seven years of unbroken rule brings back memories of the end of dictatorial rule in Guyana on October 5, 1992.
Judging from the mass outpouring of joy following his resignation, it is clear that the people of Zimbabwe had grown tired of the existing status quo characterized by a faltering economy, high levels of unemployment, galloping inflation, food shortages and a climate of fear and trepidation.
According to political observers, the downfall of Mugabe was triggered after he fired his Vice-President, Mr. Emmerson Mnangagwa in order to make way for his much younger wife Grace Mugabe to succeed him as President.
This obviously did not go down well with his Party and the generals who placed him under house arrest and demanded his resignation. He initially refused and only recanted after impeachment proceedings were initiated against him.
A not dissimilar, though less dramatic situation, had prevailed in Guyana during the period of undemocratic and authoritarian rule, which spanned a period of over two decades, from 1968 to 1992.
As in the case of Zimbabwe, an entire cohort of new voters grew up in Guyana knowing no other administration other than the PNC of which Forbes Burnhan was the maximum leader of the party and government for close to two decades until his passing on August 1985. Like Mugabe, Desmond Hoyte initially refused to agree to electoral reforms put to him by President Carter. However, under the weight of local and international pressure, he reluctantly conceded which eventually brought an end to twenty-eight years of undemocratic rule.
So tight was the grip on power by the PNC regime that there were many who felt that they would not live to see the birth of democracy in Guyana. But all of that changed after the United States and other western powers intervened and pressure was applied on President Desmond Hoyte to agree on electoral reforms and consequently free and fair elections, which was decisively won by the PPP/C in the 1992 elections. This turned out to be a watershed moment in the life of the country. It ushered in the dawn of a new day in which for the first time in decades, the people of Guyana began to enjoy the fresh air of democracy and freedom.
In Zimbabwe’s case, the situation was a bit more dramatic. Robert Mugabe, who was one of the leading figures in the struggle against colonialism and white minority rule in what was formerly Rhodesia, became the head of state since the country gained its independence in 1967. This made him the longest serving head of state in the world, having wielded power for nearly four decades. Not only was he the longest serving, but the oldest head of state the world had ever known.
The drama surrounding his political demise, both prior and during his resignation, would have been the kind of stuff movies are made of were it not for the debilitating and devastating effects his period of rule have had on the economic, social and political fabric of the Zimbabwean society. From what was once described as the ‘Pearl of Africa,’ it degenerated to one of the poorest countries in Africa.
Hundreds of thousands fled their homeland in search of a better life in neighbouring countries and further afield. Unemployment rates were in the 90’s and for the vast majority of people, life was a living hell. Inflation had reached galloping levels and poor Zimbabweans had to literally fetch their money in wheel barrows just to buy a loaf of bread!
In pre- 1992 Guyana, under the former PNC Guyana, a similar situation had obtained. From among the more prosperous countries in the region, the country was reduced to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, at one time having to suffer the shame of being behind Haiti from a poverty perspective.
The lessons from both Zimbabwe and pre-1992 Guyana are that where there is an absence of democracy and accountable governments, an entire nation perishes. Going downhill is much more easier than rebuilding from the ashes of economic ruin. We saw, in the case of both Guyana and Zimbabwe, where two relatively strong economies were ruined by economic mismanagement, nepotism, graft and by no means least, undemocratic and authoritarian rule.
The task facing the people of Zimbabwe is to try to
garner local and international support for the rebuilding process. But, at a more fundamental level, there is the urgency to institutionalize democracy and accountable governance. Where democracy is absent, the proclivity for corruption and dictatorship is much greater.
Democracy and good governance go hand in hand. It is impossible to get one without the other. This is why any attempt to subvert the democratic process must be resisted by all. (Hydar Ally)