It could have been different. It should have been better. After doing something consistently for 37 years – being a teacher or a faithful tailor, a retiring public servant or a dying spouse – it should end in praise and songs of glory by those affected, not in disgrace and sighs of relief.
Zimbabwe, a country of 16 million people, with about 25 persons per square kilometer, is one of the most backward countries in the world today. It is in a place of despair, economically, socially and politically, and is nothing compared to the optimistic first day of the leadership of Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister in 1980. It has no currency after its dollar hit a ridiculous exchange rate of $35 quadrillion for one US dollar in 2008. The amiably high adult literacy rate of 90% is diabolically matched with a 90% unemployment rate. Three million of its citizens live abroad and arguably have far better lives than the majority of those trapped in the local quagmire from Harare to Bulawayo. Cash has been scarce, commodities have been had to find, local agriculture crippled, civil society nearly comatose.
All because one man loved power so much that he would do anything but cease being president.
Mr Mugabe’s time as leader of Africa’s “breadbasket” should have ended at least 15 years ago, but he contrived to plunge the country into deep economic crisis as the price to pay for more political power. It should have ended in 2008, after losing the first round of voting to Morgan Tsvangarai, only to pull another fast one to remain in power. On that occasion, he shared power with his candidate who then became Prime Minister for four years. That in self was another ‘mugabestroke’ that ensured Mr Tsvangarai became tainted by the evils of the administration so he could not convince the followers from 2008 to support another challenge against Mugabe. 2013 was an easy ride; a year later, Emmerson Mnangagwa was made Vice President.
Mugabe’s exit this November was fundamentally stirred because the path to Mr Mnangagwa’s presidency had been vandalized by his dismissal, with a despotic enthronement of a Mugabe by Mugabe expected. The criticism, over the past weeks, of Mr Mugabe has centered, not on his disgrace, but on humiliating his wife, Grace. This writer has been guilty of this too, in spirit and in letter, but “Gucci Grace” or the opportunist typist has not earned the rights to be the sole bearer of the curses due to the 37-year despoilment of a nation. It was Robert Mugabe’s indecency that led him to have two sons with her while his first wife, Sally, battled and died of cancer. It was his corruption and indiscipline that availed her of the fortunes of state at her splurging pleasure from Paris to Jozi. And it was his blatant and undisguised nepotism and disregard for any transparency or concern for due process that allowed her become powerful enough in Harare to dream of being president without the people’s will or consent. If the weatherman guarantees there will be no rain, feel free to set your party chairs outdoors.
Leadership, contrary to the now infamous banners, could possibly be sexually transmitted. Zimbabweans used to believe so, at least in their previous estimation of Mugabe as an organic leader the country needed and were happy to have four decades ago. Mugabe’s rise to become a symbol of the movement for independence was not because he was some beast of a soldier (he’s short). He did not have the most sophisticated education but his abilities on a round table or before a crowd – speaking eloquently and cajoling precisely – are amiable talents capable of summoning the will and consent of a people. His bravado in standing up to perceived Western ideological imperialism would have been something one or two African leaders could add to their foreign policy playbook if it wasn’t a cover for his slashing and burning of the Zimbabwean treasury. A healthy lifestyle – no alcohol, no coffee, vegetarianism, early rising and exercising – has played a role in keeping him more mobile than most persons of his age; you could even question if his age is overestimated, the opposite of the usual query made of African public persons. All of these features should have counted for more than just staying put till 93 and being forced to resign, the way an old man may be obliged to leave a gathering of runway-ready fashion models for repeatedly farting too loudly and messily that yellow becomes visible on his black trousers.
Again, Mugabe should not have stayed president of Zimbabwe till the turn of the new millennium, on the evidence of facts from the preceding two decades. Had he been deposed or voted out earlier, maybe his sons would not have grown up in an environment of squalor without consequences that has turned them to filthy insensitive brats. But in the spirit of not blaming them for the sins of their patriarch, suffice it to say the boys will have a long time to make up for the false start if the good Lord is gracious to bless them with the age of their father.
Zimbabweans, to their immense credit, have had to endure one of the most forgettable periods in documented African history, without calling for the head of their long-term torturer. They would have to be more pro-active if it will not be more of the same under Emmerson Mnangagwa or any other person they choose in the next 12 months. The euphoria of “Free at Last!!” must quickly adjust to “Yes We Can Make Zimbabwe Great For Once”, reversing the fortunes of their basket case from the valley of the shadow of Mugabe Faults, to a land boundless and bountiful like the Victoria Falls.
As for the man Robert Mugabe, the remainder of what has been a long life will be lived away from the spotlight. There will still be praise singers but shutting both they and finger pointers out will be in his best interest. Contemplation and examination of conscience, elements of the faith he claims to practice, are helpful retirement offices he can now occupy, while he takes in the evening breeze from the lavish spaces of his Blue Roof mansion.
We can assume the retiring comrade is older than the prophet Simeon was when the latter burst into the “Nunc dimitis”, but it’s hard to see Robert Mugabe repeating the canticle with just as much sense of fulfillment, contentment and ecstasy.
By Alexander O. Onukwue | Feature image: AP Photo (via Zimbabwe Today)