By Chido Makunike
IT was a lot of fun telling off George Bush in his own backyard last week, wasn’t it? At a time when many of Zimbabwe’s top politicians are persona non-grata in much of the Western world, t
he annual presidential pilgrimage to the UN General Assembly in New York has become part of a petulant kind of defiance, and part face-saving bravado.
What a pity that apart from our own obedient, dutiful state media, the rest of the world largely ignores these theatrics!
But this latest sneaking into the hated but at the same apparently beloved West under UN auspices was not all a waste of time. No, by the standards of diplomacy of the regime that pathetically rules over Zimbabwe, it was a smashing success! How so? Well, there was some applause for Mugabe’s “hard-hitting” speech in which he “slammed” George Bush and Tony Blair! The predictable spin was that once again, Comrade Mugabe has shown that he is a champion of the world against the “machinations” of the imperialists!
I hold no brief for George Bush or Tony Blair, for reasons that do not necessarily coincide with President Mugabe’s defensive obsession with these two men. But sitting here in Zimbabwe, Tony Blair and George Bush seem rather remote from the issues I and most people I know are grappling with.
I find President Mugabe’s rantings at the UN irrelevant on several grounds. Here is a man for whom time is fast running out. By any measure, he is on the home stretch in terms of his time in power. After 24 years in power and at the age of 80, I would think this would be a time to focus on a few issues he could realistically make an impact on in the time he has left. Out of all such issues, the man chooses to obsess about two distant world leaders who have far more pressing and immediate issues than to worry about Mugabe, and who it is not even clear are listening to Mugabe’s rantings against them! The amount of emotional energy Mugabe spends on these two foreign leaders seems an awful waste given how Zimbabwe is crumbling while he basks in the hand-clapping of some far-away pampered foreign diplomats.
While Mugabe struts the UN stage “blasting” this or that interested foreign leader, look at the state of the country the tough and bold Mugabe presides over. Fuel shortages that had temporarily abated are back. The water infrastructure of the urban areas is fast crumbling with no sign of any serious efforts to address the situation. This crisis is just the most obvious but the rest of Mugabe’s sovereign infrastructure is crumbling in a similar way, left to a post-Mugabe generation to sort out the mess.
The claims of a successful land reform are growing fainter by the day as the reality of the long-term destruction that Mugabe is leaving in his wake becomes ever more inescapable. Weeks before planting for the next rainy season should start, farmers are not sure they can count on the availability or the affordability of such basics as diesel, seed and fertiliser. Many of the farms parcelled out to the biggest political fat cats in the last few years are crumbling before public view out of sheer lack of imagination and motivation by the new “owners”.
Overall on the economic front we no longer measure “progress” by how much better off we are compared to the year before, but by whether the last year’s deterioration has been a little slower than before.
So as one marvels at the poetic eloquence of Mugabe’s utterances in New York, one also wonders at the pointlessness and irrelevance of it all given the far greater challenges at home that he has long given up even trying to address. Here is a man who is tremendously satisfied with the applause of a few well-fed, Western-cushioned diplomats from around the world at the UN while more of his countrymen battle to survive every day.
Besuited in the best fashions of the imperialist nations he says he so stands against, well-fed himself, he gives the impression of a president who is completely divorced from and unconcerned about the issues that occupy most of his fellow citizens. The fortunes of Zimbabweans continue to decline while their president gets himself worked up and passionate about issues such as the UN Security Council. He pre-empts his own cynical disregard for a free democratic dispensation at home by pointing out how the US and its allies do as they please in the world, as if the former is excused by the latter.
I find it all an astonishing, bizarre example of presidential irrelevance and misdirection.
*Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.