] Issa Aremu, Robert Mugabe’s Xenophobia
Received wisdom (Oxford English Dictionary) characterizes Xenophobia “as a deeprooted, irrational hatred towards foreigners”. Recently (and at 90 years old too) President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe stepped up his notoriety from dictatorship to some forms of xenophobia almost on a continental scale. First against Nigeria and of late Kenya. Reportedly on March 15 President Mugabe while addressing military chiefs during his 90th birthday celebrations rhetorically asked: “Are we now like Nigeria and Kenya where you have to reach into your pocket to get anything done?”. Zimbabwean opposition media rightly calls Mugabe Mr ‘BigMouth’ who did not even spare Nelson. Mandela.. It is now an open knowledge that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, had earlier taken a swipe on Nigeria, labeling the country and all Nigerians as corrupt. At his 90th birthday luncheon hosted by the service chiefs he likened Zimbabweans to Nigerians who corruptly get paid for every service. “Are we now like Nigeria where you have to reach your pocket to get anything done,” he said. “You see we used to go to Nigeria and every time we went there we had to carry extra cash in our pockets to corruptly pay for everything. You get into a plane in Nigeria and you sit there and the crew keeps dilly dulling without taking off as they wait for you to pay them to fly the plane,” said the Mugabe followed by a huge laugh from the delegates attending his birthday bash. The Federal Government had since reportedly summoned the Zimbabwean Head of Chancery Stanley Kunjeku, in Abuja to formally lodge a protest against President Robert Mugabe’s unprovoked diatribe which depicted Nigerians as very corrupt people.
Discussing Mugabe any day puts objectivity on trial. No sit-tight Head of State has further polarised a distressed continent in recent times as Mugabe. It is either you are ‘for’ or ‘against’ a ‘liberation fighter’, ‘ a land grabber’, ‘a dictator’, a “black Hitler” ( as he proudly once called himself) ad infinitum. Yet, as controversial as Mugabe will ever be, we must still come to terms with a xenophobic African statesman at 90. One could have rightly dismissed Mugabe’s latest tirade as what the Huasa would call santi made at a presidential birthday luncheon. And that would be right. But the devil remains in the details of the characterization of Nigerians and Kenyans as corrupt by Mugabe playing a Devil’s advocate. According to Transparency International, (TI) 2013 Corruption Perception Index, Zimbabwe ranks worse than Nigeria in corruption, (157 and 144 respectively). Even Kenya that ranked 144 fared better than Zimbabwe that at lowest of the ladder. as the better him, he is still very much active in politics, even as he signifies willingness (?) to retire in 2008. In their 2013 best seller, entitled WHY NATIONS FAIL; The Origin of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, both Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson showed how Mugabe in a worse manifestation of corruption remains the only serving Head of government that won a state lottery conducted by a state lottery agency. The story will be a good script for an Africa- Magic tragicomedy.
The abridged version reads; “It was January 2000 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Master of ceremonies Fallot Chawawa was in charge of drawing the winning ticket for the national lottery organized by a partly state-owned bank, the Zimbabwe Banking Cooperation (Zimbank). The lottery was open to all clients who had kept five thousand or more Zimbabwe dollars in their accounts during December 1999. When Chawawa drew the ticket, he was dumbfounded. As the public statement of Zimbank put it, “Master of Ceremonies Fallot Chawawa could hardly believe his eyes when the ticket drawn for the Z$100,000 prize was handed to him and he saw His Excellency RG Mugabe written on it. It was January 2000 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Master of ceremonies Fallot Chawawa was in charge of drawing the winning ticket for the national lottery organized by a partly stateowned bank, the Zimbabwe Banking Cooperation (Zimbank). The lottery was open to all clients who had kept five thousand or more Zimbabwe dollars in their accounts during December 1999. When Chawawa drew the ticket, he was dumbfounded. As the public statement of Zimbank put it, “Master of Ceremonies Fallot Chawawa could hardly believe his eyes when the ticket drawn for the Z$100,000 prize was handed to him and he saw His Excellency RG Mugabe written on it. President Robert Mugabe, who had ruled Zimbabwe by hook or by crook and usually with an iron fist, since 1980, had won the lottery, which was worth a hundred thousand Zimbabwe dollars, about five times the annual per capita income of the country..”
Of course, Robert Mugabe (with multiple academic degrees) like the two authors knows very well that he presides over a corrupt kingdom (Mugabedom) since a Robert keeps succeeding a Mugabe in often rigged serial parliamentary elections after 1980 independence. What then is the motivation for Mugabe’s accusing finger at Nigeria and Kenya, even when the remaining four fingers point at Harare as the headquarter of graft? It’s time we read the mind of a cynical manipulator of peoples and power that Mugabe is. Just last year, after three decades of Structural Adjustment Prog-ramme (SAP) one time knighted Robert Mugabe announced an Africanization policy that among others seeks to transfer some businesses to Zimbabweans. Most retail and wholesale businesses are done by Nigerian and Kenyan entrepreneurs. Is Mugabe set to have a raid on “other” African entrepreneurs just as he did with “White” farmers as part of his constant predatory/ extractive governance ?
Lest we forget, no South African head of government has ever taken a swipe at other Africans before the serial mass Xenophobic attacks against other Africans including Zimbabwean immigrants escaping Mugabe’s misrule.