The Observer | Mugabe goes but the Problems Stay — By Moses Khisa

Posted November 25, 2017 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 2,556 views


Opinion — It’s one thing to rule a country for 37 years. It’s quite another to do so up to age 93. It’s also entirely another to bow out under remotely humiliating circumstances. But state power is unparalleled in its allure and the tendency to delude rulers. A staggering 37 years is an awful long time to hold the most important and deeply-pressing job of any country.

Robert Mugabe was kicked out of the presidency of Zimbabwe under very peculiar and unexpected circumstances. Not many saw it coming, even though Mugabe’s legitimacy had long gone to the winds. The men in uniform pulled the plug, doing it in a manner that reflects our times.

Overt military takeovers are out of fashion and unwelcome, especially to the international community of nation-states. It’s one area where one can make a case for the place of norms in international politics.

There was a time when launching a coup was not only morally legitimate but politically acceptable. Not anymore. The generals in Zimbabwe were acutely aware of this fundamental change in the relationship between domestic and international politics.

Gaining power by military coup now means no seat at the African Union and the United Nations. So, the men in uniform in Harare overthrew Mugabe without launching a coup.

That in itself is astounding in the scheme of the drama that unfolded over several days and is likely to continue in coming weeks or perhaps months. But there are two illustrative issues worth highlighting.

First, if word on the grapevine from Harare is accurate, the fact that the external force behind Mugabe’s departure came from Beijing, and not the traditional global-policing capitals of the West, bespeaks of the changed times.

Coups on the African continent used to be the handiwork of Washington and London in their interminable struggles against the Soviet Union. Both capitals loathed Mr Mugabe for long and wished he was overthrown yesterday. They engineered an economic blockade for years to break Mugabe in vain.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been heavily dependent on Chinese trade and investment, and apparently Uncle Bob’s missteps and the inevitable weakening of his grip on power persuaded Beijing time was neigh.

The sacked vice president and ostensible heir apparent, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is reportedly strongly ensconced in Beijing and decamped there upon his controversial exit from the country. Sections of the military leadership, according to sources, followed him there.

The definitive assessment was that Mr Mugabe was not just a liability to his country, his continued stay in power was bad for Chinese long-term economic interests.

But the second, and more important, issue is that a one-time highly-regarded statesman, a doyen of African independence struggle and an intrepid pan-Africanist has to depart in undesirable fashion and unceremoniously.

Mugabe was the last one standing of the independence era nationalist African leaders who fiercely fought for the liberation of Africa and to reclaim the sovereignty of the African people. Along with other Rhodesians, he took up the challenge of resisting the nefarious rule of Ian Smith and the white nationalists.

Southern Rhodesia, before it became Zimbabwe at independence in 1980, was one of the three southern African nations along with Southwest Africa (later Namibia) and South Africa that remained under the yoke of white supremacist rule long after the rest of the continent had attained political independence.

For most of the 1970s and 80s, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and much of independent Africa was mobilized in the fight to end apartheid in South and Southwest Africa and white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia.

In the latter, the guerrilla campaign stalemated in late 1970s but Southern Rhodesia ultimately gained independence in 1980. Mugabe took the helm of the new nation and went on to treat the presidency as his permanent job!

The last line of liberation in south and southwest Africa climaxed in 1990 with the independence of Namibia and the start of the process leading to majority rule in South Africa. Nelson Mandela became president in 1994 and stepped down in 1999. He died honourably and received easily the most global acclaim of any political leader of the last century.

Regrettably, the Mandela way has been the exception. The Mugabe way has been the rule – to rule until pushed out ignominiously. The script is easily predictable: the same masses that dance and praise rulers while in control suddenly erupt in jubilation when tables turn. Yoweri Museveni would take heed, but he won’t: he’s sloshed with power.

Mugabe’s advanced age has helped spare him adverse humiliation. While he repressed opponents, with power slipping away, he has benefitted from a strong African value of respect and empathy for the elderly.

But his treatment may well give us some glimpse into what is easily a mere change of guards, from Mugabe to Mugabe’s deputy short of his wife. The country’s economic woes will continue. Elite corruption and runaway abuse of state power is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Western media and academics tend to be obsessed with rulers, and not systems. If Mugabe’s departure had happened through a credible election, Zimbabwe would be declared a democracy overnight! Mugabe is gone, but his rule isn’t.

The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University. —

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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