By Chido Makunike
THE last several months have not been good for President Mugabe and his regime. Many at home and abroad believe his party rigged the recent parliamentary election. Operation “Destroy Homes
and Livelihoods” was an unmitigated disaster not only for the hundreds who were at its receiving end, but for President Mugabe’s already tattered stature as well.
Then came the trip to China, from which it was hoped he would return triumphantly laden with gifts, shaking his raised fist at the airport as Zanu PF Women’s League members wearing his face on the bosoms or buttocks of their dresses ululated, cabinet members shuffling dutifully. Alas, it was not to be!
No multi-billion dollar aid or investment package materialised. Instead he was said to have been thrown US$6 million for starving Zimbabweans.
I wondered whether this humiliation was why, when inspecting a guard of honour alongside a relaxed looking Chinese president, President Mugabe’s face was locked in a grim, mouth-down turned countenance. I felt so sorry that it has come to this for him.
He has previously railed against the veto at the United Nations, but took cover under Chinese assurances that they would use theirs to shield his regime from Security Council scrutiny.
Rather than appearing to be the leader of a proud, sovereign nation, this seemed to confirm how President Mugabe is so desperate, frightened and cornered that he must find protection wherever he can get it, whatever the cost and no matter how it contradicts his rhetoric.
While China may be quite happy to sell us buses, transformers and rickety old-tech technology like the MA 60 planes that the government has embarrassingly been crowing about, they are clearly not interested in extending any large scale injection to a regime that has squandered Zimbabwe’s wealth and potential.
The suggestion that President Mugabe was playing off the Chinese and the South Africans against each other in his appeal to both of them for a big rescue package was laughable.
You must be in a position of relative strength to pull this off and President Mugabe has ensured that Zimbabwe at the moment is the weakest it has ever been.
Reports from South Africa say that country’s government is being very careful not to be seen to be “humiliating” Mugabe in the negotiations over the terms of that country’s loan to Zimbabwe.
But what “humiliation” could be worse for him than the state of Zimbabwe and what he has been reduced to, trying to stem the rot?
The greatest humiliation to Mugabe is the mess he is presiding over. All his rhetoric at the AU, UN and other summits that he so enjoys pontificating at is neutralised and contradicted by the dysfunctionality of the country he rules over.
He would be better off staying at home and getting his country to be in a more respectable shape before he ventures out to be cheered in front of his face while he is laughed at behind his back.
The contradictions caused by his unenviable position just keep coming. A big part of the South African loan is to pay off arrears to the IMF. But countless times Mugabe has attributed many of the country’s economic woes to that organisation and suggested his government would get along without it.
The scramble to make a part payment and avoid imminent expulsion is an admission that his rhetoric was mere populist posturing. The need for the loan and the arrears in the first place are also signs of how the economy is not performing.
A borrower, even one who is in good standing with the world, is not in a position to dictate the terms of a loan even at the best of times. So whatever the public posturing of both governments to protect a fragile ego, Mugabe and his regime will have to swallow some unpalatable conditions to get South African assistance.
No matter how it is explained, the fact of the loan, the conditions and the fact that the lender does not trust the borrower enough to give him direct cash are all very loud statements that say “mistrust, lack of confidence”.
If Mugabe says “go to hell” to the South Africans over their conditions, it will cement the world’s view of Mugabe as a churlish despot who sulks easily and does not accept reality enough to manoeuvre in the modern world for the benefit of his people. He would have confirmed his growing reputation as a remote cold seeker of power with very little regard and concern for the misery he has been responsible for.
I wish I could think of some ways in which things were going President Mugabe’s way but I can’t. This is a great pity because a person of 81 who has lived a privileged and eventful life should have the comfort of his golden years filled with happy events, the respect and adoration of those around him for a long life well lived.
Ideally, people should be looking to your eventual exit with trepidation, not with joy and eager excitement.
The bigger and more important story is the destruction of a beautiful country. But a smaller, more personal accompanying tragedy is how a man over several decades managed to replace possible greatness with ignominy. It need not have turned out this way.
*Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.