A cautionary tale

10 September 2019 | Columns

On Friday morning, Africa and the rest of the world woke up to the news of the death of Robert Mugabe.

Immediately, media outlets began to connect the tapestries and threads that convalesced into the persona and person that was Robert Gabriel Mugabe. At the age of 95, he had lived a full and controversial life. Many opined about his journey from liberator to so-called despot. Others wrote and spoke of his sterling contribution to overcoming Africa’s struggles and his penchant for bashing Western powers. But more than that, Mugabe’s life represents a cautionary tale that other leaders should learn from. There is no doubt there were many things Mugabe had done that one could find inspiration in, while there are also examples where the former Zimbabwean president scrapped the basest levels of humanity’s psyche and actions. Mugabe was elected prime minister of the newly-founded Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980. After serving two terms as PM, he abolished the position and became president in 1987, a post he held for 30 years.

As his grip on power diminished, amid the union-backed MDC’s ascension and a government-in-waiting, Mugabe, according to his detractors, launched a series of populist interventions, spiced with intimidation, violence and murder, to cling to power.

Yet principally, Mugabe’s tale is one of a leader who could not read the writing on the wall, who could not bring himself to relinquish the reins of power, even as his countrymen and women fled to seek greener pastures away from the economic disaster that befell Zimbabwe, and which still grips it. It is the oldest story in African politics, where a liberation leader or movement feels they are entitled to unending payback, salutations and loyalty from the ‘liberated’, and when things go wrong, they resort to Cold War ideology and the safety of Western bogeymen, who hunt them in their dreams and in reality. Mugabe has run his race. Another generation of leaders, who can move beyond Jurassic politics, need to now lead the way.

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