Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on 21st February 1924 in the then Southern Rhodesia. His mother was a teacher while his father who was a carpenter, disappeared mysteriously when Mugabe was 10 years of age.
He served as a teacher before turning into a fierce critic of colonialism and white minority rule. A reason for which he would be jailed for 10 years. After emerging from prison in 1974, he led ZANU, a group of liberationists into a revolutionary bush war that culminated into the independence of Southern Rhodesia which was then named Zimbabwe in 1980.
He served as prime minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as president from 1987 to 2017 when he was ousted in a coup. He died on the 6th of September 2019 in a hospital in Singapore. News of his death was reported widely around the world with the Media predictably divided into different factions in terms of which image of Mugabe they chose to paint.
BBC reported that his status as a hero of the independence movement was overshadowed by the corruption and human rights abuses which marred his time in power and that his economic policies caused the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy.
CNN reported that his legacy was built by violence and oppression, while ABC news repeatedly referred to him as a dictator.
In Africa, televisions were very respectful and offered their condolences to the people of Zimbabwe. The images that were painted clearly expose the forces that confront the people of Africa ultimately influencing the politics and the way of life on the continent.
The legacy of Mugabe has been extensively debated throughout the world with some people concentrating on what went wrong during his administration while others concentrated on his activism for the empowerment of black people with several of them coming up with phrases such as “the west will not tell us how to remember him.”
In light of this, a good analyst will dig deeper into this debate in order to find out the kind of people that fall on either side and what forces from within the continent and from without, all representing different interests on the African continent, have shaped their perspectives.
More scrutiny will make one realize that people on the same side of the debate may agree to vilify or glorify him but their perspectives have not been formed because of similar experiences or interests.
In this debate on the legacy of Mugabe, submissions have been from 6 categories of people namely: the western world, the eastern world, “the progressive Africans”, the Pan Africans, the African hypocrites and the common man in the villages and streets of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s relationship with the Western world is a very complicated love story. Initially, he was loathed by the British before 1965 for agitating for independence of Southern Rhodesia from the grip of colonialists which led to his arrest and imprisonment by the colonial government in 1964.
The love story would later take a new twist in 1965 when Ian Smith, the white prime minister of Southern Rhodesia, declared independence by issuing a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) without the consent of Britain. Britain was furious declaring the act treasonous even going as far as mooting the idea of military intervention. The British argued that they did not want to grant independence to a colony with a majority of the population (blacks) not ready to take over leadership of a newly independent country.
They, however, ended up turning to Robert Mugabe who was in prison as well as other liberationists. When he emerged from prison in 1974, he had the goodwill of the British to fight against Ian Smith’s racist government which he defeated in 1979 leading to the declaration of independence in 1980. At this point, Mugabe was hailed in the same vein as Nelson Mandela by the western world who turned a blind eye when he cracked down on dissent in the Ndebele land where it is reported that between 2000 and 20000 people were killed.
Michigan state university (1990), University of Massachusetts (1986), and University of Edinburgh (1994), all awarded him with honorary degrees of laws. At the peak of this love story in 1994, he was given a state banquet in Buckingham palace where her majesty queen Elizabeth bestowed upon him an honorary knight commander of the bath which entitled him to use the letters KCB.
This love story turned bitter in 2000 when he decided to implement land reforms as agreed in the Lancaster house agreement of 1979 between Mugabe’s ZANU and the British. Mugabe argued that the willing buyer willing seller policy had not worked, because whites were not willing to let go of the land, prompting him to ask his supporters and veterans of the liberation war to occupy the white-owned farms by force without compensation, in what Mugabe termed as correcting a historical wrong where blacks were to take back what originally belonged to them. For this decision, Mugabe paid a heavy price.
He was condemned by the western world as a dictator and African despot. They went ahead to strip him off of his knighthood and revoked all honorary degrees conferred on him by western universities. They also sponsored his enemies, to whom he vowed never to give the leadership of Zimbabwe. The west issued a travel ban against him to most of the western world.
Worst of all was the economic sanctions that were imposed on him, his family, key members of his party and very important Zimbabwean businesses which plunged Zimbabwe’s economy into a crisis to the extent that at one-point inflation peaked at 79.6 billion % in 2008.
When Mugabe was removed from power in a coup of 2017, celebrations in the western world would only later be eclipsed by those following his death in 2019 where many whites came up with phrases like “another dictator has bitten the dust”, “may his soul rest in hell”, “he died 95 years too late” and many other despicable statements.
In the end, the western world painted an image of his legacy that comes from the perspective of the bitterness of being betrayed by their former lover who instead chose to fight for the interests of black people at all costs.
The second group that has been debating his legacy are the ones labeled the progressive Africans by the western world. These black Africans genuinely mean well for Africa. They are very educated and boast fluency in the languages of the white man which they speak with incredible pride while laughing at anyone who makes a single mistake while speaking the same languages.
They passionately follow what happens in the western world with great admiration. They dream of a day when they can travel to the UK, US, France, etc. They change their haircuts, dressing styles, walking styles and sometimes their accents to match those in the western world.
They form NGO’s and solicit for funds from the western world through lies that they are trying to help their people while the truth is that they need money to spend on mimicking life in the western world like basking on beaches, dancing in nightclubs, and buying expensive wines to toast in expensive celebrations, while wearing expensive artificial buttocks imported from the western world.
One by one they are beginning to accept the LGBT agenda as the western world has done. Because of their education, they qualify to occupy government jobs where they engage in massive corruption which they then blame on their leaders and then engage in political activism to remove them.
These “progressive Africans” mean well in their opinions, but in truth, they are in a deep identity crisis like most people on the continent. Their ancestors were stripped of all dignity by centuries of slavery and later colonialism which completely disrupted their order of life.
“The progressive African” therefore inherited no strong culture from his forefathers and has therefore adopted the one he was given by the western world, whose identity he tries so much to represent. They have no place for other Africans who seek to deepen original African values and view them as retrogressive. This category too has predictably vilified Mugabe as a backward dictator and racist who destroyed Zimbabwe.
The third category that has weighed in on the debate is the African hypocrites. These have operated at the highest levels of our society and therefore understand all these forces very well. They have access to information which most others cannot access. They have read files about slavery and colonialism which have previously been classified.
They have been involved in high-level meetings and signed documents to ratify protocols and economic policies that are exploitative to the African continent. They understand the agendas behind wars on the continent and who is behind this agenda. They feel sorry but they are heavily compromised by their personal ambitions.
They are high-level officials in our governments. Some of them are heads of government, while most are opposition politicians, prominent journalists and senior members of Civil Society Organizations. The heads of government in this category prefer to play it cool and avoid angering what Mugabe termed “the self-appointed prefects of our time” lest they commit political suicide like Mugabe.
The opposition politicians want to benefit from the political and economic clout of the west, meaning that they have to tread their paths carefully. This third category is very clever and will do anything to keep themselves in good standing with those at the top of “the world political food chain”.
This has prompted this category to react differently depending on their interests. Most opposition politicians who always court the west have vilified Mugabe just to keep themselves in the good books of the western world.
Most prominent journalists and senior members of the Civil Society Organizations have cleverly refused to state their side, by only highlighting his positives and negatives and leaving it at that, while a few hypocritical heads of government who like to play it cool have mostly offered their condolences as it is in African culture, and refused to launch deep into the debate.
The fourth group that has weighed in on the debate are the Pan Africans. These are a rare breed in modern Africa. Their ideology has been chocked by dangerous weeds namely “the progressive Africans” and the “hypocrites” who continue to betray their people. Nevertheless, the Pan Africanists have tried to be vocal in this debate, especially on social media with very few managing to get their views aired by prominent media houses.
Heads of government who lie in this category may not be as vicious or nearly as radical as the late Robert Mugabe, but they released statements glorifying him with some attending the official government burial function on the 14th September 2019.
Pan Africanism is a rare quality among most modern opposition politicians. This is why Julius Malema, the leader of Economic Freedom Fighters, a political party in South Africa is a rare pearl that must be treasured by all black South Africans who are still seeking for true independence.
During this month when two major events have greatly tested the strength of the spirit of Pan Africanism, Malema scored 100% on both occasions. The first event which was the xenophobic attacks of black South Africans on their fellow blacks from other African countries.
Mr. Malema reacted brilliantly by calling a press conference and uttered the following words to fellow black Africans: “find it in your hearts to forgive us. We are sorry. We are ashamed. Forgive us. We come from a traumatic past and we are still struggling to find ourselves. The oppressors, who control our minds, are the ones who have instilled in us the hatred of our brothers and sisters. They have told us we are better than the rest of the continent.”
The second event was the death of Robert Mugabe. His response to this was him and his party organizing a memorial service in honor of the fallen revolutionary. At the service, Malema declared thus:
“for so long we have been told by the white man who we should and should not celebrate. Murderers such as former president de klerk are honored and given Nobel Prizes while we are told that we should not celebrate our black revolutionaries such as Robert Mugabe… They can keep their de klerk, we will keep our Mugabe.”
This category has defended Robert Mugabe as a revolutionary icon, founding father of Zimbabwe and Pan Africanist in the mold of Samora Machel, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela.
The Eastern world too, led by China and Russia also weighed in on the debate. They sent their envoys to attend the official burial in Harare. They were full of praises for Robert Mugabe. The Image they painted was that of a hero. This is because Mugabe was an enemy of the western world, which automatically made him a friend and ally of the Eastern world.
The last category that weighed in on the debate is the common people in the villages of Zimbabwe and those on the streets of its towns. These people are very honest. They do not claim to know a lot about what happens in the secret halls where those with power reside and make decisions but they have opinions too.
They are mostly concerned about their daily needs like food, shelter, water, electricity, etc. and the last half of Mugabe’s reign, these were in short supply. They do not care about the complications that their leader must have had to deal with because of sanctions or anything else. For them, their needs must be met.
In the debate, most of them chose to be honest that they suffered a lot during the economic crisis. Some of their people died of hunger and preventable diseases in their thousands which led to a decline in their life expectancy. As is an African tradition however, they never spoke ill of the dead and instead were quick to offer their condolences.
As the above analysis shows, the true legacy of Robert Gabriel Mugabe has been to expose these forces of interests that constantly influence affairs on the continent. Africans must make a correct diagnosis of these forces in order to come up with a correct prescription that will secure the future of Africa with a people whose identity and success is determined by Pan African forces and not the forces of other people from anywhere else.
In this great debate, however, the ones that will ultimately win are not the ones who are right but the ones who are audible and persuasive enough.
Analysis by Nyarthur.
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