Looking Beyond Robert Mugabe


“Perennial wisdom from divine revelation and human experience dictates that all earthly things great or small, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, sad or happy, foolish or wise must finally come to an end” – Jonathan Moyo

ONE question that will definitely stand out in history is “what stopped Robert Mugabe from retiring?” It is a genuinely difficult one, with varied opinion and contrasting analysis. The fight he has put up in making sure that he remains at the helm of power in Zimbabwe is suggestive of the view that something must be stopping him from relinquishing the same.

Throughout his 50 year career in politics, 40 of which at the helm of ZANU, Mugabe survived everything from attempted coups, assassination attempts, collapsed economy, to contested elections. He is a survivor. But today, life after Robert Gabriel Mugabe has become an unavoidable subject. And surely, this is the time we should be talking of a Zimbabwe beyond Mugabe.

Mugabe is a clever, brave and shrewd politician, a ‘wily old fox’ as some put it. But that is not sufficient to run a country, let alone one troubled with a battered economy, socio-political problems and other problems of all sorts. Running a country such as ours requires an energetic person, a person with less to worry about – like health, brand issues and other issues that haunt Mugabe’s character.

It needs a more forward looking person, simply put. Mugabe is no longer that guy. He is turning 90 on 21 February 2014. He is old and frail. It dictates from reason and common sense that given his immense contribution to the status quo, he must simply step down.

But I have to declare my intentions. This argument must not be mischaracterised or misconstrued, in any way, as a case for Morgan Tsvangirai or the MDC. This is about Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe. The purpose of this article is to dissect and question the reasons behind Mugabe’s unyielding grip on power, and the complexity of the subject, in the wake of his election victory six months ago.

Mugabe’s rise and rise – or fall?

Mugabe emerged as the leader of ZANU towards the end of the liberation struggle in 1975 after a series of events including the disposal of Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo, and the death of Herbert Chitepo. Despite initial constraints he however managed to harvest power to himself, becoming a powerful politician in the liberation war. He has led the party ever since. He was elected to an executive office as Prime Minister of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. And he has ruled the country ever since. His political career has had its highs and lows, with the lows strikingly standing out.

Operation Gukurahundi is a one such striking low. What exactly happened remains a mystery, but between 6,000 to 20,000 civilians were killed in the massacre. The economic collapse under his watch that succeeded the land reform was another low. So were the human rights abuses that have given him a notorious brand in the international media. Corruption in his Zanu PF party is another disturbing low in Mugabe’s rule. Under his watch, Zanu PF has probably become the most corrupt organisation in the world.

Still, he has had a fair share of successes, including leading Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and the economic progress registered between 1980 and 1997. He made remarkable strides in improving education, health and economic opportunities of the black majority that had been systematically denied during the colonial settler regimes. Zimbabwe has Africa’s leading education sector, reflected in the 98% literacy rate, a highly skilled labour market that is even better than many in developed economies.

The land reform is arguably another Mugabe success, in a way. 350,000 black households were resettled onto land previously owned by a 6,000 white minority. Despites serious initial challenges, production of some commodities like tobacco, small grains and cotton has been picking up, to levels of the white farmers. The indigenization policy is another contentious policy, which if properly implemented with consistency and transparency could be a new high for the 90 year-old leader. Planning on a grand exit?

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