By Issa Aremu
After addictive medical trips to Singapore apparently in search of some immortality, Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) on September 6, heaved the last breath. If he was mortal after all, what then remains of the legacy of the first sit-tight prime minister of liberated Zimbabwe, who in 1987 transformed into an executive president? This was also a frequently asked question while alive. He was born in 1924 in Kutama in the then British colonial possession: Southern Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe). He was imprisoned together with some of his comrades in Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), later ZANU PF, between 1964 and 1974 for leading an armed resistance against British colonial rule.
In prison, he lost the only son from his first Ghanaian wife, late Sally Hayfon (who died in 1992). He died at 95, some two years after he was pressured out of power in November 2017 replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man he had fired as his deputy. One clear legacy of RGM is longevity in life (by destiny) and power (almost by subterfuge and dictatorship). Robert Mugabe shared in common, long life with freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela who despite 27 years’ incarceration by accursed apartheid regime died in South Africa peacefully some few months after 95th birthday, precisely on December 5, 2013. Kenneth David Kaunda, (Zambian President from 1964 to 1991) also known as KK, born same year with Mugabe on April 28, 1924, remains the only standing nationalist of his era! Liberation fighters like Samora Machel of Mozambique were not as lucky in longevity. He died in a plane crash, at the behest of South African racist regime on October 19, 1986, at 53 years. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana 1909-1972, was the first liberator to audaciously lower Union Jack in 1957. He died at 63 of what Amilcar Cabral at Nkrumah’s state burial called “cancer of betrayal” in an historic speech in Conakry on May 14, 1972.
A year later, Cabral (precisely on January 20, 1973) was also brutally killed by agents of the Portuguese imperialism at the prime age of 48 years. The second legacy of Mugabe is leadership-by- controversy, disputation and notoriety (almost-in that-order). My reflections over the years on Zimbabwe under Mugabe (what I dubbed Mugabedom!) can make a chapter in the next revised edition of my Reflections on Africa and Global Affairs (2015) and Friends, Comrades and Heroes (2015). They include Mugabe @ 80 (March 2004), Mugabe As History (APRIL, 2008), Zimbabwe For Beginners, (June 2008), Mugabedom, Not Yet Zimbabwe – (August, 2013), Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) for Beginners– (August, 2013) and No Lessons from Zimbabwe (2017).
While alive (just as it’s is now after his death), Mugabe once polarized the African continent and indeed the world. Either you’re for him (in support of the so-called land reform through land grabbing from the historic white land robbers) or against Zimbabwe under him for denying free and fair elections. The combined imperial forces of UK’s Tony Blair/ America’s George Bush who concealed their racist uncritical support for few white land owners opposing land reform while remaining hard on politics of free and fair elections gave Mugabe the ready excuses to repress his people and under-develop Zimbabwe. After death, there is a disputation as to whether Mugabe who died in faraway Singapore with better medical care was truly a liberator or another duplicitous African big man, with one set of rule for himself, family members, party members and miserable standard for his people.
Following the crisis that trailed rigged elections in 2008 (Mugabe actually lost to opposition MDC), he declared that Zimbabwean crisis was “an African crisis” arguing that the success of Zimbabwe is the success of Africa. Yet he effortlessly dammed the same Africa Union (AU) following the latter’s suggestion for election postponement when opposition MDC alleged insecurity. Mugabe pointedly said the continental body has “no right to dictate to us what we should do with our constitution, and how we should govern the country”. Former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, aptly described the ugly repressive events in Harare under Mugabe as manifestation of tragic leadership failure. The worst legacy of Mugabe is sit-tightism in office with drab speeches which often lacked substance like most boring speeches of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.
Mugabe came to power in 1980 in a popular election contested by notable nationalists like Joshua Nkomo. My findings show that in Nigeria, from President Shehu Shagari in 1980s to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, as many as 10 Heads of States had witnessed Mugabe’s serial self-inaugurations, sorry self-successions. If Mugabe were to be a British Prime Minister through sit-tight game, the British would not have known such prime ministers as Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Prime Minister David Donald Cameron and Theresa May. Mugabe came to power almost same time Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher came to office. Of course if Mugabe were to be a Chinese, Li Xiannia, Yang Shangkun, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin Hu Jintao and incumbent Xi Jinping could not have been presidents of the fastest growing economy in the world compared to impoverished Zimbabwe. Mugabe came to power when Ronald Reagan was in power. The two “Bushes” namely George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton met and left him in office. Indeed President Barack Obama was in the college in the 80s when Mugabe was already a president. By Mugabe’s design, Obama completed two terms in office before he completed his 7th tenure!
If Mugabe were to be a South African, there would not have been a Nelson Mandela to succeed him! We would have been crudely denied a global moral authority on freedom, democracy, reconciliation and peace that Mandela represented. Since Mugabe came to office, as many as seven presidents have emerged in South Africa. Certainly Mugabe was not Nelson Mandela. He was a man with selective sense of justice. He once accepted to be happily knighted in the 90s by the Queen under Lancaster House constitution. Paradoxically after almost 40 years in power, Mugabe’s selling point until end was still colonialism, not open unemployment as high as 80 per cent, multiple digit inflation and imaginable currency devaluation, dollarization and unprecedented human drain/ human flight in modern Africa!
Whatever his legacy is, blessed are the dead, because Robert Mugabe would no longer be suspected of some African failings. The burden is on the living who must deepen democracy, generate wealth, overcome inequality, create mass decent jobs and banish poverty.
• Aremu, is member National Institute, Kuru Jos.