Thoughts On Robert Gabriel Mugabe
It is easy to call him all sorts of names now. His faults, real and imagined, can be magnified. Indeed, it looks like with Mugabe gone, Zimbabwe will become an African paradise. Remember the joy of seeing Gaddafi gone? Libya's story still remains a sad one. Mubarak is gone and Egypt is still reeling. Stretch your mind to 1991 when Somali's longtime dictator, Siad Barre, was kicked out. Where is Somalia since then?
By no means am I saying that Mugabe should not have gone. Indeed, his status as the father of Zimbabwe, hero of its long war of freedom, is tainted by the manner of his lengthy rule. But if we remember where he was coming from; a Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in which the black majority, were lower than animals, we may qualify our judgment. If we recollect that Zimbabwe once had Africa's record as the best educated and agriculturally self-sufficient country in his time, we will be careful.
Zimbabwe's Mugabe led the pack of Southern African heroes and freedom fighters of the 60s to 80s like Joshua Nkomo, his partner and later rival; Samora Machel of Mozambique, etc. In those heydays of capitalist-communism struggle it seemed that Mugabe cuddled up to Moscow. But apparently he was a pragmatist who only sought the best for his people. I have a copy of a 1980 TIME magazine (year of the country's independence and shortly after Mugabe became PM), and every indication reported was that Zimbabwe was not going communist. His former white adversaries, who are the real economic powerhouse of the country, felt he was a man they could do business with. Remember Ian Smith, the declarer of UDI(Universal Declaration of Independence of Zimbabwe from the British that began the road to war? He was chummy with Mugabe when he became PM and Smith leader of opposition. Smith even encouraged the whites to back the new man and for a while all was well.
Mugbae's star fell for these reasons:
He sought a one-party system in 1981. Why? To preserve his country's fragile freedom? To curtail the economic power of the whites? To check his rivals and fellow heroes of the struggle? To check the raging white supremacists across Southern Africa who were uncomfortable with a free Zimbabwe and its support for other countries in the region fighting for freedom, especially South Africa? May be a combination of all.
His land for blacks policy which smashed at the heart of the white Zimbabweans.Sadly, that policy has not equipped the people as the county's economy collapsed.
His alienation of fellow liberation heroes and heroines, even jailing some.
His unwillingness to groom a democratic setting that would encourage a successor elected by the people. Surrounding himself with lackeys did not help.
This messianic complex that only he had the salvation of the country in his hands. That is a weakness of many African leaders who fought, really shed sweat and blood, for their countries. Only Mandela and Nyerere of Tanzania, to my knowledge, resisted the temptation.
Now he is gone. Let Zimbabweans, black and white, find the peace and strength to forge their destiny and build a real powerhouse which it can be. Let them always find it in their hearts to allow Mugabe live out his last days in peace and honour him when he dies. The new dawn is here. God help Zimbabwe.
HENRY C. ONYEMA IS A LAGOS-BASED HISTORIAN AND WRITER. Email: [email protected]