Mugabe too tired to pull Zimbabwe out of the woods

By Jonathan Moyo


OF the various problems in Zimbabwe that account for the seven-year-old political stalemate that has precipitated an unprecedented economic meltdown, the one that is now looming larger than any other is the chronic leadership deficit, particularly but not

only in the Zanu PF government.  So serious is this deficit that the most fundamental issue that explains the palpable despair among Zimbabweans today is leadership, stupid.

Take the case of the economic meltdown. Many, not only among economists but also within the diplomatic community and multilateral bodies such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, believe that the problem in Zimbabwe has to do with the adoption of wrong policies by the Zanu PF government.

There have been ubiquitous calls to the effect that things could change for the better only if President Robert Mugabe and his ruling lot adopted correct policies underpinned by a new democratic dispensation.

While understandable, these calls have nevertheless been misplaced because those making them have failed to appreciate that policies, including a new democratic constitution, are not value-neutral commodities that can be traded with political ease. 

Policies are an expression of leadership to the extent that there must be an ideological connection between the policy and the policymaker.  The alternative is an assured circus. 

The Zanu PF government has irredeemably failed to get a policy handle on the causes of the political malaise and the collapse of the formal economy in the country not because there are no alternative policies out there that it can adopt.  It’s because there is no visionary leadership within the ruling party that is both existentially and ideologically well disposed to the pursuit of alternative national policies capable of getting Zimbabwe out of the woods. 

On offer is the self-indulgent leadership of President Mugabe who is now too old despite his photogenic makeup, has become very tired, visionless and beleaguered. Mugabe remains in office not because he is in charge of the goings-on in the wider society but largely if not only because of considerations of his personal and family security in a world that is increasingly becoming hostile to former heads of state with unresolved human rights and corruption issues during their rule. 

A leader in this kind of a box in which Mugabe now finds himself tends to invariably construct his own political reality which in turn blunts his ability to tell the difference between winning a popular victory and securing a stolen result at the polls.  There is no way such a leader can ever enact correct policies even if they smack him on his face.

This explains why even with the best of intentions by some within his inner circle, Mugabe’s leadership has become inherently limited and in fact doomed to fail.  No wonder his associates are now unable to distinguish between defending their beleaguered boss as a person and defending his principles, human ideals or policies.

Mugabe’s two deputies are not in a better position than him vision-wise. Vice-President Joice Mujuru is seemingly content with wanting to become executive state president by crisscrossing the country in the glare of the media hoping to win voters by waving “a pigs-and-chicken manifesto” in an economy whose wheels have fallen off. 

Mujuru’s more senior counterpart, Vice-President Joseph Msika, has practically retired on the job but not from it and is now marking his sweet time in office incapable of doing anything meaningful.

If this kind of visionless and self-indulgent leadership is bad for Zimbabwe’s battered economy, what is dramatically worse is that Zimbabweans must for reasons only known to God endure the policy curse of a do-nothing Minister of Finance in Herbert Murerwa who has become an ever-sulking crybaby over money printing and currency reforms as if he has forgotten that it is him who presided over the economic origins of the present crisis in 1997 when he printed money to irresponsibly compensate some veterans of the liberation war and to bankroll the unpopular war in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose political and economic benefits to Zimbabwe remain elusive.

The situation is no better outside government but is worse within Zanu PF’s raging succession war in which the acrimonious factions are united by their lack of a policy.  

Meanwhile the crisis continues to widen and deepen despite occasional flashes of recovery through what some now see as cynical manipulation of apparently declining inflation figures at a time when prices are skyrocketing like never before. 

History does not have a single example of a nation that has ever pulled out of the grip of a chronic crisis of the magnitude currently bedevilling Zimbabwe without following the path of visionary leadership. Failed leadership always leads to failed governments and ultimately failed states. On this the examples are too many to mention.

The bottom line is that when a nation finds itself in the woods, it simply cannot get out without the guidance of a visionary and capable leadership that first and foremost knows what is going on; is confident that it knows for sure and is able to make it abundantly clear to everyone else that it indeed knows not only what is happening but also what must be done and why.

Once despair takes hold of a nation in some unprecedented fashion, in the way Zimbabweans today are suffering the indignity of living from hand to mouth in a land of plenty, it becomes necessary for society to produce leaders who are dealers in hope to checkmate the merchants of despair. This happens through either having the incumbents in government reinventing themselves and discovering new visions and new skills or having a new generation of previously unknown visionary and capable leaders emerging to show the way.

When Britain was in the woods during the Second World War, the way out was through Winston Churchill’s leadership. And when the Great Depression battered the American economy, Franklin Roosevelt provided pivotal leadership in the form of his “New Deal”.

The remarkable success of the civil rights movement in the United States was made possible by the visionary leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. Closer to home south of the Limpopo Nelson Mandela’s leadership was decisive in moving South Africa from the apartheid woods to the promise of a new democratic dispensation. 

In our own country, visionary leaders such as Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Herbert Chitepo were instrumental in laying the nationalist foundation for Zimbabwe’s liberation.

But since Independence Mugabe’s leadership has tragically failed to lay the foundation of a vibrant, dynamic and prosperous nation.  While there are a number of explanations for this, the main one is that Mugabe is given to using high-sounding words to put his ambition over and above any enduring human principles or ideals.

During the Tsholotsho saga in 2004 Mugabe demonstrated to the whole world his hostility to democracy as an enduring human principle and ideal even within his own party when he invoked false allegations of a coup in order to prevent his party membership from freely electing leaders of their choice in accordance with Zanu PF’s constitution.

Earlier in 1980 no human principle or ideal informed Mugabe’s rhetorical declaration of national reconciliation which stands in retrospect as cynical propaganda never intended to achieve any racial harmony beyond consolidating Mugabe’s political power. Witness how today Zanu PF is prone to shocking racism.  In the 2005 parliamentary election campaign, Zanu PF political commissar, Elliot Manyika, had no qualms about singing at rallies and in the electronic media “Musha une Bhunu ndewani tibhombe?” (Whose house has a white man so we can bomb it?)

Similar trappings are evident in Mugabe’s claims to national unity that are all about self-preservation without any lasting principles or human ideals. Zimbabweans will never understand how a leader committed to national unity could have allowed the madness of Gukurahundi in which over 20 000 people were massacred while many more had their homes and livelihoods destroyed.

The fact that Mugabe has done absolutely nothing of national significance to heal the Gukurahundi wounds even after rhetorically acknowledging the madness speaks volumes about his disdain for enduring human principles and ideals. It is this disdain that has left the door wide open to such evil deeds as Operation Murambatsvina whose victims numbering at least 18% of the population are still trapped in untold misery to this day.

In the same vein, the disastrous failure of the otherwise necessary land reform programme undertaken in 2000 is defined by its lack of grounding in enduring human principles and ideals that can withstand the prejudices of the moment.  Mugabe’s self-indulgent propaganda that Constitutional Amendment 17 brought finality to land reform remains dangerous nonsense because, as a trained lawyer, he should know better that there can never be such finality through a law that bars people who lost land during the chaotic reform process from approaching the courts.

Against this backdrop, and given the breadth and depth of the current crisis that has left Zimbabweans in total despair, one does not have to be malicious or mischievous to understand that Mugabe simply does not have the leadership vision and capacity to pull Zimbabwe from the woods. He is just not that kind of leader.


* Professor Jonathan Moyo is independent MP for Tsholotsho.