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President’s score no more than zero

Chido Makunike

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe finds he has managed to cling on to the position which he “won” last year amidst widespread local and international disbelief, but he is very much

a lame-duck president, unable to do anything meaningfully “presidential”.

We are in our fourth year of the fuel crisis and no one any longer believes there will be any initiatives from him to ease the situation. He recently felt obligated to tour the graveyards of Libya “mourning” Gaddafi’s deceased relatives, but even that did not move that country to supply any more fuel.

“Solidarity” is a word Mugabe finds much comfort in, but those offering it limit it to verbal support. Libya, Nigeria, South Africa and many other countries in Africa and beyond cynically offer him their solidarity, but not one of them is willing to come to the aid of Zimbabwe in the face of its problems. Mugabe is more pleased by their hypocritical verbal support than he is bothered by the fact that they all are cultivating closer ties with the Western countries he claims to be fighting against.

A man of what had once seemed to be exceptionally high calibre, it is strange that he feels comforted by the solidarity of leaders of mostly dependent, dysfunctional states. Instead of giving those countries an example to look up to, he is quite satisfied to have Zimbabwe go down to their level.

Out of deference to his being one of the last of the surviving African freedom fighters still in power they are polite to him, but he seems not to notice that by many of their actions they do not have much respect for him. He once used to be at the centre of African politics, now he is a sad, isolated figure who is merely tolerated, finding great comfort in small, meaningless gestures like being invited to talk shops.

Virtually every time he talks he issues warnings against someone or other. Warding off increasing opposition has become such a full time job that there is no time or energy to address mushrooming problems. He has so far succeeded in avoiding open insurrection, but at great cost to himself. He remains cloistered in the presidential palace, coming out only rarely under heavy guard on very carefully controlled occasions.

There are countless laws to shield him from democratic comment and criticism, fear and harassment are effectively used tools, but still he does not appear like a relaxed, confident president at peace with himself.

Apart from his own many personal foibles, whatever of his positive legacy was left is being rapidly used up by the shocking levels of theft, plunder and other kinds of crookedness by many of his top lieutenants. He is aware of it, but is now too weak and personally compromised to do anything about it.

Some ministers and other top aides spend far more time on their personal enterprises, a lot of them simply confiscated from fellow citizens, than on affairs of state.

Their government positions are only conduits to getting cheap or free resources with which to oil their personal activities. This is done so blatantly it has completely stripped Mugabe of any moral authority. His authority is now almost entirely from control over the means of force, which he uses rather effectively, the only skill he has really perfected in his time in office.

Using that skill, he brutally decimated white farmers as an autonomous power block challenging him. His well-to-do cronies have benefited disproportionately from an exercise he claimed was to empower the landless poor blacks. Along with economic decline that had begun long before, his method of land redistribution has left in its wake accelerated economic decline and massive hunger.

The latter is only ameliorated by the food handouts of the same countries he blames for his international isolation. A cold, unfeeling man, he seems unmoved by the suffering he has personally caused to millions of Zimbabweans. His goal of millions of disgruntled people who are too weak and hungry to challenge him has been achieved, but it may not be for too much longer.

He has a reservoir of support in parts of Africa and the black world beyond for his strong anti-white stance, but supporters do not explain the brutality and great suffering caused to mainly blacks by his racism. He has succeeded in squandering the potential of Zimbabwe and his own to be a beacon of economic success and freedom to a tired, depressed Africa. Instead of raising the stakes of what Africans should expect from independence and majority rule, he has merely been content to feed on and fuel age-old resentments without putting food on anybody’s table.

It is one reason many of his most vocal supporters do it from the safety and comfort of Western countries, or NGOs funded by the West! Violence has been a hallmark of his rule, excused by many of his apologists because by the standards of the massacres the world has seen in so many African countries, Mugabe’s methods look tame by comparison. This is yet another example of the low standards in which those who claim to be the strongest Africanists hold African life.

Mugabe is an absolute disgrace to Zimbabwe and Africa. No amount of examination of his rule is excessive because of the high hopes of an enlightened Africa of dignity, peace and prosperity he has failed to live up to after 23 years at the helm. With as much singular power as he exerts over so many critical aspects of life and politics, the reversal of Zimbabwe’s plight as just another failed African state is not possible as long as he remains president. I give him a score of zero.

Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer

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