By Bill Saidi
SINCE the tragic events of 2000, there has developed around the world a virtual ritual surrounding the political future of President Robert Mugabe.
Every year, a number of do-gooders line up with what they claim to be generous retirement plan
s for Mugabe’s exit from power.
Among those mentioned are President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. Both men are reaching the end of their terms but have still not thrown up a retirement plan acceptable to Gushungo.
The list this year includes Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations. It is unclear how the top world civil servant can involve himself in the retirement from office of a head of state.
In Zimbabwe and perhaps in Ghana as well, Annan’s home country, there is speculation that it must be associated with the late Sally Mugabe, who originally came from Ghana.
She may not have been related to Annan in any way, but it is assumed that Mugabe, as that country’s son-law, would not be so rude as to dismiss out of hand any plan Annan offered him.
Incidentally, Sally is remembered fondly by many as the wife who would have saved Mugabe from his present woes. She was as filled with fire as he is. This is not to take away anything from Grace, but her critics say looking after Danhiko’s interests hardly compares with Sally’s political pedigree.
Annan is serving his last term as the head of the organisation. A successful plan to force or persuade Mugabe out of office would leave a lasting and memorable impression of his tenure on the world.
Yet, like all of us who know the history of the UN, he too must be aware of the fate of Dag Hammerskjoeld, the Swede who was involved in the bloody flare-up which followed the former Belgian Congo’s Independence from a reluctant Brussels.
While trying to contain the secessionist excesses of Moise Tshombe, he died in a plane crash outside Ndola, in what was then still Northern Rhodesia, to be independent Zambia in 1964.
Kurt Waldheim, a former UN secretary-general, was involved in early attempts to try to negotiate the independence of what was then South West Africa, now Namibia from South Africa.
I met him in Lusaka after his trip there and he told me that the whites of that country had scared him with their determination to hang on to the former German colony.
Waldheim himself was Austrian and knew how the descendants of the German colonists in SWA would rather die than give up what they believed was their treasured possession in Africa.
So, it is difficult to imagine Annan playing a key role in Mugabe’s retirement. What kind of offer would he make to Gushungo? A guaranteed job as a UN goodwill ambassador?
For many Zimbabweans, one man whose chances of succeeding in this project were considered bright was Mbeki. Yet, as soon as he started speaking of “quiet diplomacy” we all gave up on him.
Today, Mbeki is considered by many Zimbabweans to be part of the problem rather than an element of any solution to the Zimbabwean imbroglio.
Even the US president, George W Bush, who once called Mbeki his “point man” in solving the Zimbabwe problem, has given up on the SA president.
As soon as Bush’s administration used the phrase “an outpost of tyranny” to describe Zimbabwe, we all knew that Washington had given up on Mbeki.
Obasanjo’s attempts included efforts to bring Zanu PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to the table, during which they could try to hammer out a modus vivendi, perhaps leading to a government of national unity.
Mugabe would have none of it, turning his wrath on Obasanjo as being a tool of the Western arm of the Commonwealth.
He pulled out of that multiracial grouping and has not spoken a kind word of Obasanjo since.
Reports that he chuckled mirthlessly when Obasanjo conceded he would abandon his third term campaign after the rejection of the plan by the Nigerian senate could not be confirmed in Harare.
Genuinely patriotic Zimbabweans, rather than the money-grabbing charlatans who populate the party still going by the name of Zanu PF — which should now change its name to something representing its obsession with corruption and malfeasance — are ashamed of this ritual over Mugabe’s future.
The political philanthropists who hope to make Mugabe an acceptable retirement package feel sorry for the people under his jackboot. Moreover, they know there is no chance of his being removed from office through an election, staged in accordance with the free and fair principles enshrined in the UN Charter.
What is worse is that all of them know how terrible Mugabe has been for Zimbabwe, particularly since the bloody events of 2000.
The country is no longer viewed as the shining example of an African state pursuing political and economic policies which can only enhance the continent’s reputation worldwide.
Not only are they now ashamed of it, some of them wish it would be swallowed up by the Zambezi, leaving only the Victoria Falls as a reminder of its pathetic existence.
Mugabe has not indicated publicly that he feels any remorse for the loss of life during that terrifying period, as he did, years later, over the events of the early 1980s in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in which 20 000 perished.
What may prompt even the blindest supporters of Zanu PF to begin to re-evaluate Mugabe’s relevance to their party is his performance at a rally to drum up support for the party’s candidate in the Budiriro by-election recently.
If this was billed as the highlight of the party’s campaign, then it turned out to be a 24-carat damp squib.
Mugabe asked the rhetorical question: “Why would anyone wake up in the morning to go and vote for Tsvangirai and the MDC?”
Then he catalogued a tired and boring litany of accusations against the opposition party, linking it to a British imperialist movement. Some of the people he was addressing had twice voted for the party in elections in 2000 and 2005. Some of them must have felt hugely insulted by his tirade.
This capacity to be petty must really worry Zanu PF supporters who remember the fiery Mugabe of the 1980s. That one could enthrall an audience with scintillating references to the struggle and why it had been waged.
The 21st century version of Gushungo is no longer inspiring. His language is filled with pettiness, a tendency to be repetitious and an obsession with preaching a barely disguised hatred of opponents of his party.
What must complicate the succession stakes for Zanu PF is Mugabe’s unwillingness to be absolutely categorical in his intentions. Furthermore, there is the spinelessness of the people around him, some of them with ambitions to succeed him, but lacking the honesty to confront him head-on.
Some of them use the excuse of party unity to justify their unwillingness to be more open with their ambitions.
Zanu PF is far from the sacred cow that some of the leaders believe it to be. Like all such creatures, Zanu PF is fallible, vulnerable and absolutely ordinary — as the MDC demonstrated in 2000 and 2005.
Mugabe himself showed how vulnerable he is in the l990 presidential election, in the 2000 referendum and in the presidential election in 2002.
Edgar Tekere gave him a good run for his money in 1990, as did Tsvangirai in 2002.
Still, Mugabe remained unfazed. People who hope to make him an offer he cannot refuse ought to remember how Vito Corleone, the Mafia gangster in Mario Puzo’s novel from which the Godfather films were made, came to use the expression.
In the most famous incident, he and a Mafioso soldier forced a producer to sign a contract for a Mafia favourite by telling him “either his brains or his signature” would be on the contract in front of him.
At that time, the hitman was holding a loaded gun to the producer’s head. It was the producer’s signature, rather than his brains, which ended up on the contract.
So far, nothing approximating that fictitious incident has confronted Mugabe. Unless the do-gooders begin to appreciate how Mugabe feels about Zimbabwe, they cannot make him an offer he can’t refuse.
At the moment, Mugabe feels there cannot be a Zimbabwe without him. He probably feels that without being the head of state of Zimbabwe he himself would not amount to much either.
* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News On Sunday.