His dramatic exit from power after 37 years in Zimbabwe, at the behest of the military may be less edifying, history will surely smile on 93-year old President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, not only for empowering his people via the land reform programme but for herding a country with an enviable legacy of one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, writes TONY IYARE
Anyone familiar with the seminal discourse of Mahmood Mamdani, one of Africa’s most brilliant intellectuals, titled “Lessons of Zimbabwe”, published in the London Review of Books in 2008, may not be taken aback by the loud celebration in the West on the exit of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 93.
“It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe”, says Mamdani in the 6,732 word paper, arguing that both “Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator, and blame him for Zimbabwe’s descent into hyperinflation and poverty”. Since the demise of Thomas Sankara, the lot has fallen on Mugabe to defend and speak for Africa as its lone voice and conscience.
Mamdani also posits that, “The seizure of white-owned farms by his black supporters has been depicted as a form of thuggery, and as a cause of the country’s declining production, as if these lands were doomed by black ownership. Sanctions have been imposed, and opposition groups funded with the explicit aim of unseating him”.
Mamdani however contends that this view of Zimbabwe’s crisis which can be found everywhere, from the Economist and the Financial Times to the Guardian and the New Statesman, “gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive”.
Penultimate week, the Western elite and its media dined, wined and clinked glasses over the resignation of Mugabe and predictably it was enmeshed in the same narration.
It mattered little whether his ouster was choreographed by the military wielding tanks and the barrel of the gun although it says it was not a coup. When it pleases the West, they are ensconced in the sophistry and deification of democratic values but when it runs against their interest, all is fair.
Since the emergence of the new Zimbabwean President, Emerson Mnangagwa popularly called the Crocodile and the inclusion of two generals on his cabinet, one is really not sure whether the government will not be goaded at the behest of the military.
It will be idealistic not to expect that power given with the barrel of the gun will not be taken in the same process. We may therefore not have heard the last from military diktat. Mnangagwa may just be savouring his victory dance on the back of the tiger.
The fact really was that Mugabe was torn between two crocodiles in the ensuing power play which pitched his former Vice President, Mnangagwa and the military wing on one side and his 52-year old wife, Grace and a faction of the youth wing on the other.
The tragedy is that the Western media do not see issues in Africa outside the purview of Eurocentric historiography, designed to disempower the continent and lay its huge resources to perpetual plunder. In its view, nothing good can come out of a dark continent.
In Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper’s perception, it is a continent without history but that of European conquest. “Perhaps in the future, there will be some African History to teach. But, at present there is none: there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness…”, says Trevor-Roper, a Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. Many are yet to rise beyond this Tarzanic view of Africa. It’s a greater tragedy that a large chunk of the African media have also been sucked into a western narrative to demonise Mugabe.
The mission of the Western media in Africa flows from the same trajectory. That’s why their reporting of the Liberian election always ended with the fallacy that the country was founded in 1822 by the freed slaves from America. No one has bothered to reflect on the warped logic of how the Americo Liberians who constitute a mere five per cent of the Liberian society could have discovered the indigenous Liberians who have inhabited the territory for centuries.
Their mindset of African leaders is that of teetledee and teetledum. Any one who demonstrates genuine commitment towards his people and breaks outside that mold is a “dictator” and “tyrant” who must be cut down. It’s not surprising that Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Guinea’s Sekou Toure and Bukhina Faso’s Thomas Sankara who were perceived in that mold were hacked. Toure who survived their antics struggled through an almost famished economy.
Mugabe, one of the most educated political leaders in the world was their darling when the music was good. He even got knighted until he crossed the Rubicon. The West which turned the other way while thousands were slaughtered in Matambele started singing a new song as the predominant white ownership of choice farm lands were reversed.
No doubt, mistakes were made by Mugabe in prevaricating on a succession agenda which should have seen the transfer of power more than 10 years ago. This led to his disconnection from the younger Zimbabweans many of whom can hardly appreciate the toil of years of guerrilla struggle, spearheaded by Mugabe and his other comrades which ushered in the independence of the country.
Mugabe also became a pawn in the chess game of his psychedelic wife nicknamed Gucci Grace, who got huge state funds to underwrite her lavish lifestyle at a time the country was in the throes of acute poverty. There was also poor handling of the unrest in Matambele which led to the death of several thousands.
Imperialist conspiracy saw the tumbling of a once buoyant economy in torrents. The economy became comatose making it difficult for many to eke a living. Inflation was in triple digits, its currency, the Zimbabwean dollar had lost 99 per cent of its value while more than a quarter of its citizens had fled the country as it plummeted to the 20th biggest economy in Sub Saharan Africa from its prime 10th position when Mugabe assumed power in 1980.
But all these were contrived as the economy had been huddled by the West which had become angry with the land reform programme. As Mugabe refused to buckle under and swallow the humble pie, their anger to finish Old Bob off to his sunset grew.
For his effrontery to implement the land reform which saw the Black population taking back 70 per cent of the arable lands previously hijacked by the White population under the rule of Ian Smith, Mugabe became demonised and a concerted effort to wrack the Zimbabwean economy and social life was contrived. Agricultural production nosedived thereafter. This made the country’s currency almost worthless.
Britain and the US which initially had agreed to fund the transfer of ownership to the black population under the Lancaster House Agreement had reneged leaving no window but the forceful take over spearheaded by the veterans.
The ZANU-PF had also tactically delayed aggressive land reform in the 90s in order not to hamper the negotiation of the African National Congress (ANC) with the then White led government in South Africa. Mugabe’s political survival became inextricably linked to the wellbeing of his numerous supporters in the countryside who had now become landowners.
Unfortunately the ANC led by Nelson Mandela was enfeebled in either pressing for a land reform in South Africa or Black control of the economy which still leaves them as drawers of water and hewers of stone. What then was all the huge sacrifices of the armed struggle for if it was not to genuinely address the land question?
Mugabe’s legacy in education will endure for a long time. As a result of heavy investment in education since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has the highest adult literacy rate in Africa which is put at 92 per cent. Access to education by women also remains one of the highest on the continent.
With five bachelors and two masters, Mugabe radiates in intellection, rendering his speech writers virtually jobless. Like renowned British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill who won a Nobel Prize for Literature and reputed for writing and re-writing his speeches, Mugabe also pens his own speeches with peculiar anecdotes.
His successor, Mnangagwa has an arduous task of re-inventing agricultural production and turning around the economy. In a desperate attempt to survive and turn around the economy, he may steer the country into the firm grip of the West and its agents of international finance, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The West may also attempt to shore up its economy the same way it did during the five year period of power sharing with the western backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvhangirai. But this will come as Greek gift. I’m cocksure that Mnangagwa will be wise enough to steer clear of wanting to reverse the land reform. Anything otherwise will imperil his rule.