Sleeping with the dragon queen

Sleeping with the dragon queen

Thursday, November 30, 2017 9:46 am

Mugabe and his wife, Grace

Dare Babarinsa

By Dare Babarinsa

Finally, Robert Mugabe is separated from power. One impertinent journalist was said to have once asked the perennial president: “Mr Mugabe, when are you going to say bye-bye to the people of Zimbabwe?” He replied: “Where are they going?”

Finally the people of Zimbabwe, who once regarded him as the ultimate hero, left him. It took a non-coup by the Zimbabwean military and the nudging of South Africa to convince Mugabe that the game has ended and it was time for the big masquerade to return to Igbale, the portal of the dead. What years of diplomatic isolation and protests by fractious opposition could not achieve, Grace, Mugabe’s graceless dragon-queen achieved. She wanted a dynasty and sought the hero to make her the queen after his long reign must have ended. She worked hard to change the tide of history using the old weapon of bottom-power to her advantage. She failed.

Mugabe had always had what would make a woman swoon: money, charisma, a fearsome fearlessness, determination and the ultimate aphrodisiac, power. When Mugabe came to power in 1980, it was at the end of a brutal struggle, first against the British, then against the illegal regime of Ian Smith who unilaterally declared independence for what was called Rhodesia. During the scramble for Africa, Rhodesia was one of the territories whose acquisition was financed by the ultimate British imperialist, Cecil Rhodes, the South African legislator and businessman who got the new country named in his honour.

By the 1960s while the wind of freedom was sweeping across Black Africa, British minority settlers, having lost in Kenya to the Mau Mau uprising, dug their heels in Rhodesia and South Africa. When Britain showed the inclination to listen to Black Nationalist fighting for independence, Smith, with his minority settlers in Rhodesia, declared that independence unilaterally. Africa was up in arms against the theft of a country by the Smith regime, but it endured for many years due to the support of many Western countries, especially United Kingdom and the United States.

By 1978, the struggle of the Africans in Zimbabwe had reached a crossroad. It was certain now that the White minority government cannot hold on forever. But the African freedom fighters were at each other’s throats. The biggest of the African freedom fighter group was Zimbabwe African National Union-ZANU which had formed a Patriotic Front, PF, with some of the other groups. Their most formidable leaders were Joshua Nomo and his former protégé, Robert Mugabe. There was no doubt that Mugabe, from the majority Shona ethnic group, had the larger following. Nkomo was the leader of the Ndebeles from Matabeleland.

When their rivalries were causing problems for the struggle, General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian military ruler who had committed his country to the liberation of Southern Africa from foreign rules, invited them to Lagos. In a drama that would remain unforgettable, Obasanjo met Mugabe and Nkomo in a small rood at the Doddan Barracks, Lagos headquarters of the military government. He placed two loaded pistols on the table and told the two men that he was leaving them for 10 minutes. He said he expected one of them to survive the gun duel. The survivor, he told them, would lead Zimbabwe to independence. He walked out and locked the door. When Obasanjo returned after 10 minutes, the two men were still alive. Sobered by the unusual experience, the two men agreed to collaborate while Mugabe would be the Prime-Minister.

Power was to increase Mugabe appetite for power. By 1987, seven years after independence, Mugabe became executive President and when opposition rose to his regime in Matabeleland, it was repressed with cruel efficiency which led to the death of almost 10,000 people. Nkomo, banished from power, fled into temporary exile. Most of the leaders of the independence struggle, Ndabaningi Shitole, Abel Muzorewa and others, were consigned into irrelevance. Mugabe power base were the veterans of the armed struggle who dominated the armed forces. They were to remain loyal almost to the very end.

In the end, it was only one woman who mattered, the menacing Grace, whose early beauty had been moderated by age and the stress of ceaseless struggle and boundless ambition. Mugabe met Grace when she served him as secretary after he became Prime Minister. She was married to an air force pilot and had a son. Mugabe too was married to Sally, the Ghanaian heroine of the struggle who had met Mugabe during his years as a young man in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. She relocated to Zimbabwe. When she became First Lady, Zimbabwean adored her and called her Mother of the Nation, the wife of Comrade Mugabe. Despite the high profile of the First Lady, Grace carried on with her liaison with the President. When Sally died in 1992, Mugabe married Grace in 1996. The marriage is blessed with two children.

Not many regard Grace as a blessing to Zimbabwe. Her hunger for power was insatiable, her greed for material things was superlative. She left no one in doubt that as the lady who shares the President’s bed, she was the ultimate repository of power. She was the ultimate dragon queen whose greed cannot be satiated by tokenism or the frills. With the exit of one powerful man after another close to Mugabe, it became clear that Mugabe was dancing to the music of Grace.

The career of Grace reminds one of the many women who regards the power-bed as the main totem of ambition. When Hamani Diori was in power in Niger, his wife, Aissa, was She-that-must-be-feared. No minister dare disobey her or court her displeasure.In the end, when the coup plotter struck in 1974, they arrested her husband but gunned her down. In Nigeria, Maryam Babangida succeeded in intimidating many top military officers and ministers in her husband government.Babangida dominated the country but his wife nevertheless dominated him. During the era of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the First Lady was powerful too, though she never nursed the ambition of flying the presidential flag. She was the first First Lady of Nigeria who was fortunate enough to have a mother who had a dollar bank account.

So Grace made Mugabe to bid farewell to Zimbabweans before he was ready to meet his creator. He had planned that when he would be leaving State House, it would be in a casket wrapped in the national flag. Now he would have to spend his final days far away from the panoply of power. Never again would he address the United Nations General Assembly as the Zimbabwean President. He is luckier than many of his colleagues who left in worse circumstance.

Saying farewell to power is not the same as saying farewell to life. The career of Grace Mugabe would have been a fascinating study for Wole Omikorede, Professor and former Dean of the Faculty of Science at the Lagos State University, Ojo. Omikorede was a leading light of Idile Oodua and one of top strategists of Alajobi Committee of the Yoruba Nation.

He paid his dues during the struggle against General Sani Abacha dictatorship and when victory was won, he moved back to the mainstream of his academic career. He was due to deliver his inaugural lecture at LASU early next year. Instead he died suddenly at 63 on November 1 after returning from a hectic day in the office. He would be buried Friday, December 1. He was one of those who made our freedom from military rule possible. Now he has become one of the ancestors. How can anyone have predicted that Omikorede would move on before the faded hero of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe?

• The Guardian

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