By Nze Nwabueze Akabogu
The news of the sudden demise of the foremost nationalist and doyen of liberation struggles in Southern Africa, former President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was received by the global community with great shock and utter grief.
The international media was awash with the sad development as both the print and electronic media carried the rather unfortunate incident in their daily news casts. Former President Mugabe who later became the maximum ruler of Zimbabwe after her independence in 1980 recently died in a Singaporean hospital after a protracted illness at the age of 95.
It will be recalled however, that Mugabe was ousted from power in 2017 in what could be described as “a Palace Coup” by the military wing of the ruling powerful ZANU-PF which had dominated the politics of Zimbabwe since her independence in 1980.
The international media had described Mugabe as the strongman of Zimbabwe, foremost nationalist, a hero, and uncompromising freedom fighter who confronted the white minority settler regime of Ian Smith in what was then known as Rhodesia.
Late Comrade President Mugabe was indeed a controversial figure as initially he was the toast of the Western powers soon after Zimbabwe’s independence apparently due his pro-western policies. However, the honey moon with the Western powers suddenly became sour and terribly strained when Mugabe began to adopt stringent and anti-white policies in favour of his black majority Zimbabwens, an action considered inimical to the interest of the white minority settlers who were in total control of the nation’s economy at independence.
Mugabe will be remembered as a fearless and revolutionary icon who confronted the racist white minority settlers despite their military might in the then white dominated Rhodesia. The erstwhile British Colonial Powers was then ruling what used to be known as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland under Sir Roy Wellinsky as the Prime Minister. The Federation was made up of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi).
During the fierce and relentless struggles for liberation and freedom then sweeping across the continent of Africa between early 50s and 60s, the British was forced to grant independence first to Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda as the first President, then quickly followed by Malawi, formerly Nyasaland under the leadership of Hastings Kamuzu Banda as her first President.
Regrettably, in the case of Southern Rhodesia now Zimbabwe, the British in her characteristic dubious diplomacy of divide and rule tactics refused to grant independence to the genuine black majority but rather surreptitiously encouraged the white minority settlers to continue to dominate and subjugate the black population purely for her selfish economic interest as Rhodesia was then the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa during the dark era. The nationalists and freedom fighters led by the indefatigable Joshua Nkomo, together with Bishop Abel Muzarewa, Rev. Ndabaningi Sethole and Robert Mugabe among other nationalist fighters immediately declared total war against the white minority settler regime led by the arch racist and oppressor, Ian Smith who had boasted that black majority rule in what was then known as Rhodesia could only happen after one thousand years and certainly not in his life time.
As the liberation war was then raging in its intensity, some of the moderate nationalist leaders notably Joshua Nkomo and Bishop Abel Muzarewa were later lured and compromised to join the white minority government, an action considered by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF as an unpardonable betrayal and complete sell out, prompting Mugabe and his associates to launch a guerrilla warfare against the racist regime.
In 1965, the erstwhile leader of the white racist regime, Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence for Rhodesia otherwise known as (UDI). The then British government responded swiftly against the illegal declaration of independence (UDI) by dispatching a naval warship ”NS Tiger” to Rhodesia ostensibly to quell the insurrection. Paradoxically, the warship was conveying the then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who on arrival in Rhodesia merely invited the rebel leader Ian Smith for talks aboard the warship.
It was indeed a great irony, illogical, and hypocritical of the British government to have treated the glaring case of rebellion and high treason against Ian Smith with such levity without adequate sanctions but rather the rebel leader Ian Smith was accorded rare diplomatic niceties and respect by the erstwhile British colonial powers simply because he was a white and obviously one of their own. That was the height of British perfidy and double standard reminiscent of her inglorious colonial era in Africa. It must be noted however, that Ian Smith had rebelled against Her Majesty’s government at the time he unilaterally and illegally declared Rhodesia independent from Britain as the colonial powers.
As the liberation struggles were raging unabated and the white minority settlers became more vulnerable and at the receiving end, the British government was forced to convene independence conference in London where formal independence was finally granted to Zimbabwe to be preceded by a general election under the universal adult suffrage and participated by all parties. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF won a decisive victory and controlled the majority seats in parliament and subsequently became the first Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980. Mugabe later became the President of Zimbabwe in a flourishing and strong economy that was solely engineered and managed by the white farmers who were controlling the nation’s economy at independence.
However, Zimbabwe’s hitherto strong economy suddenly began to witness a downturn as a result of the arbitrary seizure of the farm lands owned by the white settlers by the Zimbabwen government which were later redistributed to the black Zimbabwens who knew little or nothing about mechanized farming. The consequences of the misguided and ill-advised state policy otherwise known as Afrikanisation policy was the beginning of the total collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy which had since nosedived to all time low in the recent history of that county.
It is a matter of deep regret that, Late President Mugabe had unwittingly squandered tremendous goodwill he hitherto enjoyed across the globe soon after Zimbabwe’s independence as he was then looked upon as a beacon of hope for other nations still under colonial domination and servitude. Sadly, Mugabe later embarked on authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies aimed at suppressing political dissent and cowing his perceived political enemies. As it is common with all dictators, late Mugabe had transformed himself into a medieval emperor to be greatly revered and worshiped by his “subjects” and thereby totally alienating himself from the people on whose mandate he came to power. It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely and this common saying summed up the tragedy of Robert Mugabe who progressively became a despot and tyrant against his own people.
As Mugabe’s authoritarian and dictatorial regime became intolerable and unacceptable by the international community, the Commonwealth of Nations headed by Britain suspended Zimbabwe from that largely ceremonial organization. The Western powers also followed suit by imposing punitive economic sanctions against Zimbabwe which further crippled Zimbabwe’s fragile economy with the devastating consequences on the lives of the people.
These political cum-economic sanctions mounted by the international community against Zimbabwe compelled Mugabe at a certain stage to enter into power sharing arrangement with the charismatic and irrepressible opposition leader, Late Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change who later became the Prime Minister after an inconclusive general elections that produced no clear winner. Mugabe embarked on the power sharing arrangement apparently to placate the international community that was determined to punish him for his dictatorial tendencies and lack of rule of law in his “pariah” nation. Mugabe obviously had to bend backwards to strike the power sharing deal with the opposition as a mere symbolic diplomatic gesture to avert further severe economic sanctions by the international community as the sanctions were already having devastating effect on Zimbabwe’s economy. The power sharing arrangement however, was short lived and consequently collapsed after Morgan Tsvangirai and his party later pulled out of the government.
In the aftermath of the illegal confiscation of the farm lands owned by the white farmers by Mugabe’s regime without any compensation, the white farmers were forced to re-locate to other African countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and even Nigeria where some of the white farmers had established their famous tobacco farms. The economy of Zimbabwe as at the time Mugabe was ousted from power in 2017 had become even worse and almost irredeemable as Zimbabwen citizens now cue in long lines to procure essential commodities even as the Zimbabwen currency (the dollar) has become almost useless as it has lost his purchasing power.
Again, as it is common with all dictators and sit-tight presidents in Africa, Late President Mugabe failed to groom his successor from among his former colleagues during the liberation struggles but rather preferred his young wife, Grace to succeed him and that singular and unpopular decision brought about his dramatic downfall from grace to grass and with ignominy.
Mugabe will surely be remembered as a great leader who fought tirelessly for the liberation and emancipation of his people from the clutches of colonialism, oppression and exploitation by the erstwhile British colonial occupation but tragically failed to leave the stage while the ovation was still loudest.
The life and times of President Mugabe should therefore serve as an important lesson for other African leaders and indeed other developing nations of the world that the era of naked dictatorship and sit-tight syndrome is permanently over and political leaders must direct their energies towards bequeathing enduring legacies to their future generations as history will certainly judge them for their actions or inactions while in office.
Nze Nwabueze Akabogu (JP) is a Regular Public Affairs
Commentator and Analyst.
He wrote from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State.