Mugabe to Rule From Beyond the Grave: the Kim Il-Sung of Africa

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace has suggested that he could rule from beyond the grave. Such a comment shouldn’t come as too much of a shock given the equally bizarre, repressive and demagogic reign Mugabe has had. Perhaps more surprising is the acknowledgement that he is actually going to die at some point, having defied both death and deposition to rule into his ninety-fourth year.

Grace Mugabe is Robert’s second wife and has cemented a formidable reputation of her own

Africa is no stranger to kleptocratic and confounding rulers, of course. From the cannibalistic ‘Emperor’ of Central Africa Jean-Bedel Bokassa to The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh – whose claims that he would rule for a thousand years should Allah decree it were cut short by a shock election defeat in December 2016 – the World’s least developed continent has been plagued by mismanagement from within the highest echelons of political power.

Bokassa at his ‘coronation’ as Emperor (l) and the sunglasses-loving Jammeh (r)

To think that Mugabe’s ruinous rule could continue indefinitely is enough to terrify even those blessed with the strongest of constitutions. He has led one of southern Africa’s most prosperous economies to the brink of extinction, carried out numerous acts of political repression, stifled civil society and encouraged grotesque human rights abuses.

It is perhaps no surprise that his wife is now making these fanciful claims given that she apparently has an eye on the presidency. Invoking the eternal fear of her husband may perhaps dissuade some of her rivals from attempting to oust her before she can seal the top spot.

Whether such a ploy can work is doubtful. Mugabe has been effective in maintaining his grip on power. Yet he has not developed the sort of ideological personality cult that surrounds possibly the most successful posthumous ruler of his day; Kim Il-Sung.

The North Korean communist supremo, who ruled his country (in person at least) from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994, retains the title of ‘Eternal President’ in the rogue state now ruled by his maniacal grandson, Kim Jong-Un.

Kim Il-Sung at the Front during the Korean War – Chinese and Soviet backing set the platform for his dictatorship

Fostering a personality cult centred on his unique Juche philosophy, the elder Kim was able to command unswerving loyalty from almost every North Korean citizen, despite a brutal totalitarian regime characterised by periodic starvation, forced interments, and a complete prohibition on the exercising of free will.

Both his son Kim Jong-Il and his grandson Kim Jong-Un have adeptly followed in his footsteps, both safe in the knowledge that the founder of their dynasty retains a critical – if not exactly active- role in ruling his state from the next realm.

The monstrous bronze monument of Kim Il-Sung on the Mansu Hill near Pyongyang reinforces his superiority over the mere mortals he continues to command, a reminder that nothing changes in spite of his physical absence.

Kim Il-Sung has been joined in eternity on Mansudae by his late son, Kim Jong-Il

It is this uniquely persevering hold on a people that has allowed North Korea to operate outside the boundaries of international law and retain a regime of unfathomable brutality without any insurrection or military coups. Kim Jong-Un is taking this ‘freedom’ to the limits, most recently firing a series of ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

Unfortunately for Grace Mugabe, Robert will not bequeath her the genetic legacy or instruments of repression necessary to make her a conduit for his rule from wherever his spirit eventually flees.

You will rule from your grave at the Heroes Acre because you are a uniting force for us.

Truer words have undoubtedly been spoken, yet there is an underlying reality implicit in Grace’s sentiment. Despite overseeing a country mired in misery and suffering, the Kim’s have prevented the disintegration of the North Korean nuclear state and the upheaval such a scenario would cause.

Robert Mugabe has clung to power in Zimbabwe through the harshest measures, and still his demise threatens to unleash a bloody power struggle that could rip the nation asunder.

In a bitter twist of irony to draw to a close the life of one of modern history’s most tyrannical despots, perhaps some are silently wishing that his rule continues in perpetuity.

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Grace Mugabe Poised for Succession: Zimbabwe’s Poisoned Future

Those in Zimbabwe looking forward to the end of the Mugabe era may yet be disappointed. Whilst Robert Mugabe, 90, can surely only have a few years left on this earth – though it has to be said he has defied all medical expectations in recent years – it is now looking increasingly likely that he will be succeeded by his wife Grace.

Grace Mugabe has quickly positioned herself as a potential successor to her husband
Grace Mugabe has quickly positioned herself as a potential successor to her husband

Grace Mugabe, a sprightly 49, is widely unpopular in Zimbabwe for her frequent shopping trips abroad, the absence of a freedom-fighting background and her seeming disregard for the average citizen. However, nominated to lead the ruling ZANU-PF Women’s League, Grace has started to voice her political ambitions with growing regularity. Her main focus at the moment, it seems, is to discredit current Vice-President Joyce Mujuru, once a Mugabe ally and potential successor, now seemingly out of favour.

Whilst sons still regularly follow their fathers into power, a wife succeeding a husband is rare. Indeed, despite not having even officially announced her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s prospects are being questioned by some who find the idea of the Clinton’s ruling the White House again to be distasteful; a monopolisation of the political zeitgeist is feared.

Succeeding a spouse to the leadership of a nation can lead to a lack of legitimacy, even when the transfer of power is secured by a popular vote. Argentina has had two such experiments in recent decades. First, Isabel Peron replaced her husband Juan on his death in 1974 and oversaw a disastrous period in Argentine history. The economy foundered, human rights abuses became widespread and the scene was set for a military dictatorship that would destroy the soul of the nation.

Isabel Peron's disastrous reign set the stage for military rule in Argentina
Isabel Peron’s disastrous reign set the stage for military rule in Argentina

In 2007, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was elected president after her husband, Nestor, stepped down. Whilst she has won the popular vote twice, Kirchner’s rule has come under increasing scepticism in recent years. A corrupt political elite, unsubtle press censorship and gross economic mismanagement have undermined Argentina’s future and prevented it moving firmly away from the dark days of dictatorship.

These examples are not to suggest that there could never be a successful transition of power from husband to wife. Yet when a regime which is already politically bankrupt – like Zimbabwe now and, to an extent, Argentina in the cases given – employs the policy of family succession to the leadership of the country, it reinforces that nation’s refusal to evolve.

For Zimbabwe, such a policy could lead to the sort of widespread social unrest that Robert Mugabe has somehow avoided precipitating. His wife, however, with no political experience to speak of, would be heavily reliant on the military to do her bidding. And how long will the military stand in silent support when Zimbabwe fails to develop under its new head of state?

Military influence in Zimbabwean politics would increase if Grace Mugabe succeeded her husband
Military influence in Zimbabwean politics would increase if Grace Mugabe succeeded her husband