Zim slides as image-makers falter

By Chido Makunike

WHILE the destruction of Zimbabwe continues under the present rulership, a sea change that has taken place in recent months has been the complete loss of the Mugabe government’s control ove

r its image.


While the country continues on its slide it might be easy to overlook the importance of this development, but I believe it will in future come to be viewed as a significant milestone in the decline of this odious regime.


Virtually everywhere in the world, with the possible exception of South African president Thabo Mbeki’s mind, Mugabe and his regime have become symbols of how not to run a country.


Mugabe’s government has become a laughing stock, still maintaining a physical grip on the country’s citizens but no longer having the means to keep things running at even minimally acceptable levels.


Since things began to spiral out of control for the government, it has attempted to limit how much of that national unravelling Zimbabweans and the rest of the world get to see.


Foreign news correspondents were unceremoniously kicked out with the collusion of former Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s propaganda department and the department of immigration in contravention of the country’s own laws. The closure of newspapers on the flimsiest grounds does not need repeating here.


The state media does not allow dissenting voices any meaningful space and bombards us with repeated doses of the most puerile propaganda. The ruling authority is so lacking in confidence that laws to intimidate people from speaking their minds are on the books.


Yet not a single one of these and many other measures designed to try and protect the government’s image have done a bit of good.


On the contrary the Mugabe government’s image is in complete ruin. The bitterness and nervousness the government displays towards many of the citizens and much of the world show it has no confidence that a significant part of the target of its propaganda believes it.


Despite the closing off of alternative voices from the public space, the government’s actions and how Zimbabwe is not functioning well are such loud, obvious counters to its propaganda that the propaganda only makes the government look ridiculous. There must be some plausibility for propaganda to be effective.


When it flies in the face of the reality that people live and see for themselves, it doesn’t really matter how many newspapers you shut down or how much you limit the airwaves. It may limit people’s access to the real truth, but it will certainly not win any hearts and minds.


Information management can only be a distant second in moulding opinion to what actions are actually taken.


Shouting about British premier Tony Blair and “illegal sanctions” until you are blue in the face is a complete waste of time in trying to influence thinking when you then take actions that cannot possibly be reconciled with your propaganda.


If there were any people who bought the propaganda that Blair and sanctions were the cause of most of our problems, certainly they would have been rudely disabused of that notion by the Mugabe regime’s enthusiastic destruction of thousands of homes and flea markets.


No one, no matter how gullible, would believe that Blair, the West or “the whites” would have been the instigators of the orgy of violence against them by their own “sovereign” government.


After this and other actions, it almost doesn’t matter what statements the president and his propaganda machinery issue to defend themselves against charges that they are in fact the worst disaster to have befallen Zimbabwe.


In a system where regurgitating whatever the official line is on a particular issue is about the only way to keep one’s position and access to perks in a non-performing economy, the appearance of unanimity on everything looks absurd.


How is it possible that there could be any contentious issue on which all the members of a political party or a government can completely agree? Instead of making Mugabe’s regime appear like a genuinely united fortress, it instead makes them look like frightened, cornered rabbits.


Party unity within certain limits may be understandable as a reason for reining in loose cannons, but the image we have of Mugabe’s minions are of robots who dare not think or utter an independent thought for fear of his wrath!


Again, no matter how the propaganda services attempt to explain this dull, unnatural unanimity even on actions that are clearly harmful to the country, on a gut level everyone understands that this is unanimity born of fear and convenience, not conviction.


Anyone who sees things differently from Mugabe is accused of being a lackey of the West or the whites.


This sort of blackmail is how Mugabe has been able to keep many of his opponents as well as allies in line.


But this rhetoric is utter drivel when one looks at how Mugabe and many of his closest aides are attached to so many of the accoutrements of the West that they pretend to so hate.


Ministers who are citizens of Western countries, ministers with Western spouses, ministers whose children flock to the West to escape the ruin their parents are visiting on their country.


All one has to do is look and listen to Mugabe to see and hear all the ways in which he is steeped in Western ways. So when he rants and poses as the greatest “anti-Westerner” of the age, all he manages to do is make himself look ridiculous, no matter what his propaganda machinery is churning out.


There is little doubt that as things continue to unravel, Mugabe’s regime will become more repressive in proportion to the loss of esteem it continues to suffer at home and abroad. But when the story of this stage of the country’s history is written, it will be recognised that the loss of the Mugabe regime’s control over the image it projects to the world was a critical point in its decline.


So much so that even those it considers its friends wrinkle their noses and deal with them from a distance. They are unwilling to openly embrace them, coming only as close as they believe is necessary for their advantage.

When foreign help is rendered, it is minor and strips away even more of the dignity of the president who shouts himself hoarse about his sovereignty and independence.


The tough propaganda and bravado we are fed is in stark contrast to the sad, crumbling country we painfully witness for ourselves everyday as the president maintains his stiff upper lip, fooling no one but perhaps himself and his bootlickers.


Despite all the crude efforts to limit the thinking space, the Mugabe government has provided a case study of how in an enlightened, technological age, an incompetent dinosaur of a regime that has failed to evolve with the times simply looks ridiculous despite its raw, oppressive military prowess.


*Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.

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