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.


The Gambia’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Jawara, Jammeh and a Stifled Populace

International human rights groups are condemning harsh anti-gay legislation passed by MPs in the Gambia. The African nation already has strong laws against homosexuality and President Yahya Jammeh, a noted homophobe, is unlikely to do anything but to sign the new bill into law.

Jammeh has threatened to behead homosexuals in the past
Jammeh has threatened to behead homosexuals in the past

Unlike in Uganda, which has also seen attempts this year to enact tough anti-homosexuality laws, there is little obvious indigenous campaign against the Gambian political leadership on this issue. Whilst this may not be surprising given the laws already in place, it is characteristic of the Gambia’s short history: civil society is virtually non-existent and popular protest is fractured at best, if not downright ineffectual.

From its independence in 1962 until 1994, the Gambia was dominated by Dawda Jawara. Having almost unilaterally converted his nation from a constitutional monarchy to a republic in the early 1960s, Jawara set about creating a strong People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which used ‘modern’ techniques (such as radio broadcasts and vehicle campaigning) to establish a strong hold over the population.

Jawara (l) with a Gambian delegation to London in 1961 - prior to independence
Jawara (l) with a Gambian delegation to London in 1961 – prior to independence

In the following years, Jawara was able to maintain power over the people in a way uncommon in many other African states. Whilst some dissent grew within the ranks of teachers and students over the government’s corruption and ineffectiveness at alleviating poverty, agitators were stifled either by incorporation into the political sphere or via carefully-managed ‘exiles’ abroad. The futility of the popular cause (such that it was) led many to turn to ‘heavy drinking and endless arguments amongst themselves”. (Hughes & Perfect, 2006, p.203)

Rather than popular protest movements developing, any discontent amongst the populace was an almost inevitable reaction to the endemic corruption of the regime, encouraged by opposition politicians. Indeed, a 1981 coup against Jawara was his greatest challenge before his ultimate demise. Able to portray the coup as ‘ethnic rebellion’ by the Jola people, Jawara enlisted the help of the Senegalese military to halt it and maintain strict order in the succeeding years.

By the time he was deposed in 1994 by Jammeh, Jawara was already in semi-retirement. He had marshalled the Gambia with relative ease throughout his reign and managed to discourage significant dissent amongst the population by creating a strong political base and using divide-and-rule tactics.

Jammeh has followed a similar path. Despite some crackpot views (such as his belief that natural herbs can cure AIDS or that the Gambia is one of the world’s foremost aviation pioneers) he has maintained power through a mixture of military coercion and a reliance on the mechanisms employed by Jawara, who nipped in the bud any nascent civil society movements.

As with many African nations, people are more concerned with subsistence than protest
As with many African nations, people are more concerned with subsistence than protest

As such, expect few local dissenters when Jammeh comes to sign the new anti-homosexuality bill into law. Whilst Amnesty International and other groups can highlight the potential unfairness of such legislation, without local action their cries will go unheeded.


Hughes, A. & Perfect, D., A Political History of The Gambia, 1816-1994 (2006)