The fall of Mu­gabe

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - OPINION - By Adek­eye Ade­bajo

AS I sat down to write this col­umn, word came through that Robert Mu­gabe, the 93 year-old leader of Zim­babwe had re­signed af­ter 37 years in power. Wild ju­bi­la­tion fol­lowed in the streets of Harare and Bu­l­awayo. But does this re­ally rep­re­sent a new dawn for this South­ern African coun­try born out of the agony of a 15-year lib­er­a­tion war against racist white mi­nor­ity rule? The ha­tred of Mu­gabe has blinded many Zim­bab­weans and other an­a­lysts from recog­nis­ing the dan­ger of the mil­i­tary top­pling an elected leader, no mat­ter how flawed.

Ex­pe­ri­ence from the rest of Africa should en­gen­der cau­tion at the prospect of the mil­i­tary as demo­cratic, anti-cor­rup­tion mes­si­ahs. In Nige­ria in 1993, one re­calls former for­eign min­is­ter, Bo­laji Akinyemi, and hu­man rights ac­tivist, Gani Fawe­hinmi, call­ing on then de­fence min­is­ter, Gen­eral Sani Abacha, to seize power from a weak and il­le­git­i­mate tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment in the naïve and for­lorn hope that he would some­how hand over power to the pre­sumed win­ner, Mos­hood Abi­ola of the June 1993 elec­tion an­nulled by the mil­i­tary. Abacha did even­tu­ally seized power and in­vited Abi­ola’s al­lies such as Baba Gana Kin­gibe, Olu Onagoruwa, La­teef Jakande, and Ebenezer Ba­batope into his cab­i­net. He, how­ever, sub­se­quently kept power for him­self, rid the cab­i­net of most of Abi­ola’s al­lies, and jailed the busi­ness­man when he tried to claim his pres­i­den­tial man­date. As will surely oc­cur in Zim­babwe, Abacha played on the op­por­tunism and greed of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal class, us­ing and then dis­pens­ing with them, af­ter they had out­lived their use­ful­ness.

More re­cently, the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists in Egypt cheered on the mil­i­tary coup by Ab­del Fat­tah el-sisi in July 2013 which top­pled the demo­crat­i­cally- elected Mus­lim Broth­er­hood pres­i­dent, Mo­hammed Morsi. El-sisi sub­se­quently im­pris­oned many of the same civil so­ci­ety dis­si­dents, hav­ing swapped his mil­i­tary khaki for civil­ian robes fol­low­ing a sham elec­tion in May 2014. El-sisi then trans­formed him­self into a Pharaoh more tyran­ni­cal than the three-decade au­toc­racy of Hosni Mubarak.

In the Zimabawe case, the mil­i­tary brass hats who have staged this coup are clearly de­fend­ing their own nar­row, sec­tional in­ter­ests. This is not an ef­fort to clear the Augean sta­bles of the filth of a deca­dent regime; it is also not an at­tempt to take power from a cor­rupt au­to­crat in or­der to hand it back to the Zim­bab­wean masses. This is the same mil­i­tary that launched the scorched earth cam­paign of mil­i­tary ter­ror that pre­vented op­po­si­tion leader, Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai, from tak­ing power in the sec­ond round of pres­i­den­tial polls in 2008, af­ter hav­ing de­feated Mu­gabe in the first round. The Zim­bab­wean mil­i­tary, in fact, pub­licly stated that it would not al­low some­one like Ts­van­gi­rai with­out lib­er­a­tion strug­gle cre­den­tials to as­sume power. This is the same army that has been ac­cused of steal­ing mil­lions of dol­lars from il­licit di­a­mond-min­ing. This is the same mil­i­tary that has propped up Mu­gabe’s au­toc­racy while the coun­try went from be­ing the re­gional bread bas­ket to be­ing a bas­ket case, with Zim­bab­weans a fifth poorer to­day than they were at in­de­pen­dence.

The tragedy of this sit­u­a­tion is that Mu­gabe was a gen­uine lib­er­a­tion hero who spent 10 years in jail (1964-1974) and led a suc­cess­ful guer­rilla war that lib­er­ated his coun­try from the clutches of a racist white mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in Rhode­sia. Ce­cil Rhodes and his fel­low Bri­tish free­boot­ers had stolen much of the coun­try’s most fer­tile land in decades of pil­lage, plun­der, and dis­pos­ses­sion of the black ma­jor­ity. In the first decade of his rule, Mu­gabe built one of the finest ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems on the con­ti­nent, many of whose grad­u­ates con­tinue to ben­e­fit South Africa in di­verse sec­tors of the econ­omy. He also im­proved on the colo­nial in­fra­struc­ture that he had in­her­ited. But in the end, Mu­gabe’s forcible “land re­forms” and seiz­ing of white farms, ef­fec­tively killed the golden goose that laid the eggs. His legacy is a bank­rupt coun­try with over 80 per cent un­em­ploy­ment, a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion short of food, about three mil­lion out of 17 mil­lion peo­ple (nearly a quar­ter) hav­ing left the coun­try and an in­fla­tion rate that, at one point, reached 500 bil­lion per cent.

De­spite de­pic­tions of Mu­gabe as an om­nipo­tent dic­ta­tor, this mil­i­tary coup sug­gests that the sit­u­a­tion in Zim­babwe was al­ways more nu­anced. He lost a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum in 2000 and the first round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2008, when a more ruth­less au­to­crat would have rigged both polls. Mu­gabe re­port­edly tried to leave power af­ter los­ing the first round of pres­i­den­tial polls in 2008, but the army al­legedly pre­vented him from re­sign­ing, in­sist­ing that they must all sink or swim to­gether. Mu­gabe thus ef­fec­tively be­came a hostage of the mil­i­tary, a Mac­bethian non­a­ge­nar­ian leader en­trapped in a cas­tle mak­ing spo­radic vis­its to Sin­ga­pore to seek med­i­cal treat­ment. It was in fact his own Lady Mac­beth – in the form of Grace Mu­gabe – who goaded the leader into tak­ing the fa­tal step of fir­ing his deputy, re­sult­ing in his down­fall.

Mu­gabe’s reign was full of para­doxes: a Bri­tish-bait­ing anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist, he was also an an­glophile who was knighted, loved cricket, and rev­elled in Bri­tish par­lia­men­tary tra­di­tions. A fire-breath­ing anti-amer­i­can ended up dol­lar­iz­ing his econ­omy and us­ing the cur­rency of the very im­pe­rial su­per­power that he had con­sis­tently cas­ti­gated. A cun­ning po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor who was able to rule for nearly four decades made the most ele­men­tary po­lit­i­cal er­ror in sack­ing a ri­val – Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa – strongly backed by Zimabawe’s se­curo­crats.

The coun­try’s an­nounced next leader, Mnan­gagwa – a long-term close ally of Mu­gabe - is clearly part of the same Zim­babwe African Na­tional Union- Pa­tri­otic Front (ZANU-PF) sys­tem that has been part of the coun­try’s de­cline. Nick­named “the Croc­o­dile” for his pa­tient ruth­less­ness, he was state se­cu­rity min­is­ter dur­ing mas­sacres in Mata­bele­land of an es­ti­mated 20,000 mi­nor­ity Nde­bele peo­ple be­tween 1983 and 1984, con­ducted by the no­to­ri­ous Fifth Bri­gade. Mnan­gagwa was also re­port­edly a lead­ing ad­vo­cate of mil­i­tary re­pres­sion af­ter the first round of pres­i­den­tial polls in 2008. For Zim­babwe’s sol­diers, he rep­re­sents the safest pair of hands af­ter Mu­gabe. How­ever, this 75-year old former vice-pres­i­dent can scarcely be a cred­i­ble re­former, let alone an ex­am­ple of gen­uine gen­er­a­tional change.

Mu­gabe was clearly part of Africa’s club of “pres­i­dents-for-life”. He had re­cently boasted that he would rule Zim­babwe “un­til God says come join the other an­gels.” The Almighty, how­ever, had other plans, and it is un­cer­tain that Par­adise will be Mu­gabe’s fi­nal des­ti­na­tion in the here­after. Zim­babwe’s democ­racy will clearly not be en­trenched through the bar­rel of a gun. It is Zim­babwe’s ci­ti­zens – not its army – that should de­cide who rules the coun­try. Based on the his­tory of Africa’s putschist “men on horse­back,” this coup may come to rep­re­sent a case of Mu­gabeism with­out Mu­gabe. “Mu­gabe is dead, long live Mu­gabe!” Prof. a deb a jo is direc­tor of the in­sti­tute for Pan- african thought and con­ver­sa­tion at the Univer­sity of jo­han­nes­burg, south africa.

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