Mu­gabe, Burn­han And Les­son

Weekend Mirror - - EDITORIAL -

The

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)

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