Robert Mugabe Resigns: Zimbabwe celebrates despite missed opportunities

So, it’s finally happened. At the age of 93, almost four decades after taking power, the geriatric and despotic President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe has resigned.

Mugabe’s resignation has prompted wild celebrations on the streets of Harare

He had little choice. Facing impeachment for allowing his wife Grace to ‘usurp’ control as his body failed him, the country in the midst of an uneasy military takeover following the sacking of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the writing was on the wall for the Zanu-PF strongman.

I mused in these pages back in 2014 about whether the military would stand for a Grace Mugabe succession, shortly after her ascent to the leadership of the Zanu-PF Women’s League had indicated that this was what her husband desired. 

Robert and Grace Mugabe in garish Zanu-PF attire

Despite overseeing the precipitous decline of what had been one of sub-Saharan Africa’s strongest economies – his opponents and critics silenced by methods ranging from coercion to violence – Robert Mugabe retained a degree of reverence from the population.

For many Zimbabweans, he remains the father of the nation. After all, it was he who was at the forefront of the revolutionary struggle against the Ian Smith government of Rhodesia, a white minority regime on a par with Apartheid South Africa.

Viciously staving off fellow militant challengers on the fall of the Smith government, Mugabe took the presidency and, with it, the affection of millions. His failure to successfully mutate from a freedom fighter to an effective political leader was offset by the gratitude so many ordinary people felt towards him.

Mugabe with Joshua Nkomo whose Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU) played a big part in the struggle for freedom only to be engulfed by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF post-independence

When times grew tougher and the economy stagnated, Mugabe took an approach followed by so many post-colonial leaders; he blamed it on the imperialists. Openly ordering the seizure of white-owned farms – which had for years ensured a thriving commercial agricultural sector – by poor black citizens, Mugabe unleashed bloodshed that overnight increased his detractors tenfold. 

With a critical sector of the economy suddenly bereft of expertise, and many ordinary black citizens inclined to seize more of what was not theirs on the behest of their master, Zimbabwe collapsed into hyperinflation. 

Many Zimbabweans became destitute millionaires

That Mugabe survived for so long is testament to the loyalty many people perceived to owe him, not to mention a fragmented opposition undermined by corruption and Zanu-PF scare tactics.

Tonight people party on the streets of Harare and MPs cheer, dance and share passionate hugs on the news of their longtime ruler’s exit. To think, as he mounted the podium of the defeated Rhodesia, Mugabe could have been forgiven for thinking that he was about to usher in a new Kingdom of Zimbabwe.

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe – the Kingdom’s astonishing stone capital – from which Mugabe’s nation took its name

Unlike his medieval Iron Age predecessors – who opened their borders to a prosperous trade with foreigners, oversaw a flourishing of culture and architecture, and created a stable dynasty – Mugabe fostered an often brutal kleptocracy more in keeping with recent African rulers.

His more positive contributions – particularly his encouragement of a sophisticated African education system that has seen Zimbabwe achieve high literacy rates – have been crushed under the weight of his many indiscretions. Trying to orchestrate a power transfer to his 52-year old wife was not going to wash with the burgeoning generation of politically aware Zimbabweans who were born after the revolutionary war.

It is these youngsters that the new government – likely to be led by Mnangagwa – need to engage with. They need to be given a better stake in Zimbabwean society and the economy, just as the few remaining whites do.

Mnangagwa is another former revolutionary who was Mugabe’s Minister of State Security in the 1980s at a time when his rivals were being massacred

Tonight Zimbabwe celebrates but in the days to come some may begin to mourn. They will mourn a missed opportunity, a failure to build on a strong foundation to create a truly prosperous, multicultural African state. Such a dream may still be possible but the transition must start immediately and it must start with intent.

Great revolutionaries seldom make great leaders. Unfortunately, Robert Mugabe lived up to this adage to the detriment of his own people.

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Mugabe Rigs Election: keeps Zimbabwe on path of reverse development

Robert Mugabe has secured a ‘huge majority’ by rigging Zimbabwe’s 2013 presidential election. His main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, has decried the election as fraudulent, merely voicing what all international observers already know.

Mugabe ensured that the democratic choice was only illusory
Mugabe ensured that the democratic choice was only illusory

The result, whilst inevitable, is a huge disappointment for a country whose people have been denied progress by the megalomaniacal rule of Mugabe. Some in Zimbabwe may still be fooled by his promises of land redistribution and wealth creation yet he can point to few, if any, real ‘achievements’.

Greater patience is often shown to ‘liberation leaders’, people deemed to have freed their country from the imperial yoke. A key figure in the Rhodesian Bush Wars against the white-minority government that preceded the Zimbabwean state, Mugabe is still revered by many Africans. As with many other ‘liberation leaders’, however, he has failed to live up to expectations.

Mugabe became leader of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. His rise coincided with the mysterious deaths of many of his ZANU colleagues
Mugabe became leader of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. His rise coincided with the mysterious deaths of many of his ZANU colleagues

It is interesting to note the observations of two Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) investigators who visited detained leaders of the Zimbabwean African National Union (ZANU) in 1972. This was part of the Pearce Commission, which had been established to listen to public opinion regarding proposed settlement plans for Rhodesia, whose leader Ian Smith had unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965.

Under the terms of the settlement, increased aid and support for black Rhodesians was to be provided by Britain and plans were to be laid out for the future transfer of rule to the black majority. Such a future seemed too distant for many of the blacks, who largely opposed the settlement.

This was certainly what the two FCO monitors discovered on their Zimbabwean tour. They were presented with eloquent handwritten letters of obstinacy by many ZANU campaigners who were detained in prison. Several pointed to the gross inequalities between white and black citizens. For instance, in 1970 there were 5.2 million black Africans in Rhodesia, compared to 249,000 whites yet there were only 2,545 black school leavers with four years secondary experience in comparison to nearly 5,000 whites.

Additionally, European land in Rhodesia amounted to 44,948,300 acres (168 acres per capita) compared to 44,949,100 acres for blacks (only 9 acres per capita). Such disparities would not disappear under the proposed settlement, the ZANU campaigners argued.

One detainee railed against the agreement between the British government and the ‘illegal regime in Rhodesia’, claiming it had ‘shocked the African people of this country’. ‘The entire investigation was carried out without the participation of the African people’, the man argued.

Such anger was reflected in other testimonies yet, despite being mentioned on the detainee list, Robert Mugabe provided no such incendiary material and did not even speak to the monitors.

Many ZANU leaders wrote passionate appeals to the Pearce Commission. Mugabe did not
Many ZANU leaders wrote passionate appeals to the Pearce Commission. Mugabe did not

Like so many other dictators, Mugabe appears to be driven far more by the lust for power than by any political or social philosophy. His whole rule has been geared towards a retention of the power granted to him by a grateful populace who saw in him a liberation leader prepared to listen to the common man.

His disgraceful, selfish rule – enabled by his ability to repress the population with physical and emotional intimidation – has ruined Zimbabwe which, like so many African countries, has the natural resources and manpower to become prosperous.

Rather than addressing the issues put before the Pearce Commission in 1972, he has enriched a select few cronies (especially those in the army) whilst the majority of the population has been forced to suffer in silence.

Now, they must tolerate another five years of his rule. It can only be hoped that, at 89, Mugabe’s time for tyranny is running out.