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.

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

Time to go Mr Mugabe; or fall off the perch in disgrace

Zimbabwe is set for another set of controversial elections on 31st July, as President Robert Mugabe used a presidential degree to set the election date, despite opposition from Prime Minister, and his supposed coalition partner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

It is quite hard for one who has never been to Zimbabwe to describe the parlous state of the country and the degradation of society and economy brought about by Mugabe’s kleptocratic rule.

Zimbabwe was no paradise before Mugabe’s reign. Under its former name of Rhodesia, it was a white-minority ruled state where the majority black population was politically restricted in a manner not completely disimilar to Apartheid South Africa. Whilst not carrying the same menacing racial undertones, the government of Ian Smith (Prime Minister from 1965 to 1979) was aimed at preserving the superiority of the white former British colonists.

Ian Smith signing the unrecognised declaration of Rhodesian independence
Ian Smith signing the unrecognised declaration of Rhodesian independence

That said, Rhodesia was a relatively prosperous nation under Smith. It had a strong agricultural base and, despite international sanctions brought about by Rhodesia’s unilateral declaration of independence from Great Britain, its leading entrepreneurs had significant economic ties with their European homelands and other Commonwealth countries. Like with South Africa, there were always ways around the sanctions imposed by the global community.

The Rhodesian economy was more productive and diverse under white rule
The Rhodesian economy was more productive and diverse under white rule

This relative prosperity naturally had a trickledown affect that somewhat alleviated the destitution and poverty now experienced by many black Zimbabweans. Backed to election by Britain in 1983, Mugabe gradually dismantled any notion of a multiracial society by employing anti-white rhetoric and economic policies before, eventually, sanctioning violent takeovers of white-owned land as part of land reform. In less capable hands, many prime agricultural estates have been laid waste and abandoned.

Massive inflation (running to thousands of percent), chronic unemployment and food and fuel shortages, exacerbated by more effective international sanctions than were employed against Rhodesia, has seen Zimbabwe reduced to a state of underdevelopment more typical of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, Mugabe has failed to seize the initiative in exploiting Zimbabwe’s natural mineral resources. Instead of encouraging foreign and domestic industrial production, he has embarked on a determined policy of nationalisation, whilst preferring to take cuts and kickbacks from unlicensed and uneconomical mining activities.

In a bid to divert attention from his idiotic economic and fiscal mismanagement, Mugabe has increasingly relied upon populist rhetoric, his role in the struggle to end white rule and fearsome press censorship, to maintain power.

Mugabe suggested Nelson Mandela had been "too soft" on the whites in South Africa
Mugabe suggested Nelson Mandela had been “too soft” on the whites in South Africa

Failing that he has shown willingness to back Zanu-PF militias against his political opponents, such as happened against Tsvangirai’s MDC party during the 2008 elections, and has been linked with the assassination of rivals.

Whether Zimbabwe’s black population is satisfied to forgo basic social services and human rights as a stipulation for African rule is unclear. Certainly, Mugabe retains a strong support base amongst the working class.

It remains ironic however, that, as in South Africa, the ending of white minority rule, distasteful as it was, has created the condition whereby black Africans in Zimbabwe live in a state of greater poverty now than ever before. The blind support shown to liberation leaders and a determination to right the wrongs of the past as a matter of principle has proved a toxic combination to state failure in yet another resource-rich African country.