By Chido Makunike
THE single biggest obstacle to solving the rapidly mushrooming problems that Zimbabwe faces is the continued occupation of the office of president by Robert Mugabe.
>As long as he remains president, Zimbabwe will continue to be a write-off.
This has been clear for many years, but many chose not to see this reality.
Now through his own terrible miscalculation in the last couple of months, this has become so blatantly obvious that even those who would have liked to continue to admire him find it difficult to argue the case of their support for him.
Over many years, almost every imaginable variable of governance has been tried in an attempt to forestall the steady decline of Zimbabwe. Diametrically opposed ideologies have been adopted one after the other.
Grand development plans that never came to fruition have been announced and abandoned. Country after country has been touted as “our saviour” in one respect or another – all of them to eventually leave on worse terms with Zimbabwe than at the beginning.
Mugabe and a small ruling clique have sent this country to wars that were supposed to massively benefit Zimbabwe if won, but ended up impoverishing and further alienating us from former friends.
Many ministers have come and gone, often taking flak for failed initiatives that should rightfully have been laid at the door of Mugabe himself.
All these gambits have one thing in common: they all failed to make any material improvement in the condition of Zimbabwe, actually leading to an unforgivable fall from the once respectable heights it commanded among the community of nations.
The one constant as all these variables were being changed has been Mugabe at the helm of government. Until this last remaining variable is changed, forget about the “recovery” of Zimbabwe in any respect.
Not so much anymore, but up until a few years ago one often heard the argument that it was unfair to lump responsibility for the failure of a nation on one person. Most of the time that is a perfectly reasonable and valid argument. But in Zimbabwe Mugabe has gradually usurped so much power to his person that it is an argument that does not hold much water.
He also has become so much of the international public’s embodiment of all that is wrong with Africa that even his initial successes are being re-evaluated. He has so rapidly and completely undone his own once positive legacy that it is difficult to imagine that he can ever reclaim his lost glory. He may cling to his position by military means, but for all practical purposes he is finished – a spent force, kaput.
In any endeavour involving a group of people, there must be one person with whom the buck stops, who must accept ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the enterprise. For a country that person must be the head of state.
In Zimbabwe we have had a situation wherein the head of state does not mind being credited for any good that was once perceived to have been done by the state, but shirks all responsibility for the much greater harm the state has done to the nation. This is a double standard that must not be allowed.
Zimbabwe is in shambles, and let us not be so cowardly that we beat about the bush and fail to apportion the final blame where it squarely belongs – on Mugabe.
A good president can be such a powerful positive symbol that he galvanises a nation to think and act positively. Even if he/she is not particularly educated, intelligent or knowledgeable in any particular field, if he positively inspires a critical mass of the citizens of a country, he helps create a positive energy that can be harnessed to spur huge strides in politics, in the economy and in development in general. This is what “greatness” is all about.
Mugabe is the opposite of all these qualities. He thrives on division and intimidation more than on unity and motivation. He is more a destroyer than a builder. He seems perfectly content to be more feared and hated than to be respected and loved.
Until recently, he has always had some facile way of dismissing his growing band of critics. But with the widespread revulsion towards him he has recently engendered, even among his last die-hard admirers, for the shameful scenes of state violence against the most vulnerable Zimbabweans, all that has changed.
With the seminal events of particularly the last few months, the struggle for a better Zimbabwe has qualitatively moved to a significantly different stage.
Just three months after claiming a “landslide victory” in a parliamentary election, Mugabe, his regime and party have squandered whatever moral authority they had hoped that claimed victory gave them before the world. Mugabe has acted more like a person whose party lost the election than as the genuine victor.
Despite the opposition MDC’s many and increasing weaknesses, Mugabe has inadvertently laid the foundation for the inevitable eventual emergence of a stronger and broad-based new opposition to him.
Within his party, despite the widespread cowardice and self-serving venality that has served as the glue that has held it together since it lost any defining or guiding ideology, disrespect for him – indeed disgust with him – is slowly beginning to find public expression.
Zanu PF may be full of thieves and cowards, but many of them have also been shocked at the undeniable proof of just how cruel and divorced from the people’s interests the organisation they belong to really is.
The most recent shock to many Zanu PF die-hards has been the incontrovertible proof of just how internationally isolated Mugabe is. Just to mention one of the many crises bedevilling us, the unprecedented fuel shortage has virtually ground any meaningful economic activity to a halt, and there is no sign at all of a plan on the horizon to deal with it.
No country is any longer offering to bail out Zimbabwe under Mugabe, even those few that are touted as our last true great friends. All economic forecasts and plans can be virtually thrown out of the window on this basis alone, not to mention all the other things that are haywire.
He is all alone, putting Zimbabwe at the mercy of cynical predator nations quite prepared to rape a country they recognise has very limited options because of the way its president has boxed himself into a corner.
For a significant number of people, the struggle for a new Zimbabwe has graduated beyond being simply about one political party being replaced by another. It has transcended that limited paradigm to become one of a struggle in which whether one is Zanu PF, MDC or non-partisan, most of us are now united in recognising what an awful liability the man who occupies the office of president is to the efforts to get Zimbabwe back on track.
All the efforts at recovery in the economic, political and social spheres as well as in just the “soul” of Zimbabwe will come to naught as long as Robert Gabriel Mugabe remains ruler of this land.
*Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.