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Editor’s Memo

When god came to town

Vincent Kahiya

IN his short story When god came to town, author Yuval Cohen has these lines: “The sun should have been shining and the birds should have been singing, but not even god’s almighty su

n could have penetrated the gray clouds of smoke and the yellow clouds of sulfur that hang over town like a painting by some mad artist who’d have made Dante’s description of hell look like a childhood fantasy of an imagination-less nun…And besides, all the birds were dead.”

The reason for this failure of the godly power to bring light to the doom and gloom is perhaps because this was not the real omnipotent God. There are many who have pronounced themselves or have been given the title god but are in reality deeply bereft of the messianic mantle.

A god came to town this week. Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema who is in Harare on a state visit has been given this fulsome title by his praise-singers. Like Cohen’s god, we do not expect his sun to bring any illumination after the visit.

In 2003, state-operated radio in his country declared that Obiang was a god who is “in permanent contact with the Almighty”.

“He can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell because it is god himself with whom he is in permanent contact and who gives him this strength,” a presidential aide announced on a show Bidze-Nduan (Bury the fire), which deals with “peace, tranquillity and the order reigning in the country”.

His visit was an important fillip for our rulers as the list of visiting heads of state has over the years dwindled. Zimbabwe is definitely not the flavour of the month and Obiang’s visit this week was a rare opportunity for the president to showcase his newfound allies after falling out of favour with the West. 

I recall in the early 1980s being bussed into town early in the morning and dropped off along Julius Nyerere Way to cheer a visiting head of state.

We would miss school all day waiting in the baking sun for the esteemed leader amid promises from our teachers that he would be arriving soon. The wailing siren of a council ambulance would send us rushing for strategic positions to view the great leader. When the real wailers came through we would all wave at the speeding vehicles without even getting a glimpse of our target hidden behind darkened windows.

The streets were then adorned with portraits of the visiting head of state and flags of his country and of course our own prime minister smiling down at his subjects from the perch of a shiny steel mast.

The masts and boards to hold the portraits have rusted over extended periods of idleness. Some of them have been brought down by inebriated motorists. The rusting tall poles are reminders of the heyday of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy when the country had friends who mattered and had clout abroad.

This was a time when heads of state would come to announce generous plans to assist the fledgling state and aid would flow in.

There was an attempt at this former splendour this week with flags and portraits to announce the arrival of Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang who has been in power since 1979 after he toppled his uncle in a violent coup and subsequently executed him.

Prior to this Obiang visit, Zimbabwe had received Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni in 2004, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia in 2002 and the DRC’s Joseph Kabila in 2001. All these heads promised to enhance co-operation between their countries and Zimbabwe.

Museveni signed memoranda on agriculture and tourism. Kabila promised greater co-operation in mining and agro-forestry while showing his appreciation for Zimbabwe’s expensive campaign in the DRC. We are still waiting for the spin-offs from these visits.

The “god” who was in town this week has fuel, and an energy pact with his counterpart would not be a bad idea.

He was also excited with Zimbabwe’s timely tabling of the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Bill to protect the country from those trying to remove the government unlawfully. Remember Zimbabwe’s “valiant” efforts in thwarting a mercenary mission to remove Obiang from power in 2004?

Mugabe was in familiar company this week considering Obiang’s political CV. He formally assumed the presidency in October 1979. A new constitution was adopted in 1982; at the same time, Obiang was elected to a seven-year term as president. He was re-elected in1989 as the only candidate.

Although Obiang’s regime is considered more humane than that of his uncle, most domestic and international observers consider it to be one of the most corrupt, ethnocentric, oppressive and anti-democratic states in the world, a reincarnation of Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier. Equatorial Guinea is now essentially a single-party state, dominated by Obiang’s Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE).

All but two members of the 100-seat national parliament belong to the PDGE, or are aligned with it. The opposition is severely hampered by the lack of a free press as a vehicle for their views. Obiang was re-elected in 1996 and 2002, but the conduct of both elections was not acceptable to international observers.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? By the way, does anyone still remember Tony Gara’s proclamation of Zimbabwe’s only “begotten son”? Yearning for a headline: “Two deities meet”. But sadly there will be no deliverance!

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