PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s unexpected roller-coaster in Nigeria last week after an ambush by local journalists who confronted him over when he will quit during his counterpart Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration had its own hilarious and abrasive moments, yet it was also instructive.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
Led by Adeola Fayehun, who hosts Keeping It Real With Adeola, a satire show on African politics on the online Sahara TV, Nigerian journalists besieged Mugabe with questions on when he will go and allow change in Zimbabwe.
Compared to the world famous BBC’s John Simpson or CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Fayehun is an unknown quantity but she gave Mugabe and his top security aides a good run for their money.
She ventured into uncharted territory and tackled Mugabe demanding to know when on earth he would quit.
Fayehun fired a volley of questions at Mugabe, leaving him and his security aides bewildered and panicking.
“Mr President, don’t you think it’s time to step down? How is your health, how are you feeling now? Don’t you think it’s time to step down? Can you say something sir? When will there be change in Zimbabwe, sir?,” she asked.
Although the approach was rather unethical — spoiled by her rough edges and judgmental polemics — her focal questions were gritty and relevant.
She wanted to know if Mugabe (91) and battling health complications, is contemplating retiring or hanging on by his fingernails.
While Mugabe’s clumsy mouthpieces and media hacks later fell on each other desperately trying to defend him, Fayehun’s questions are uppermost in many Zimbabweans’ minds, not least because of the current choking national problems.
However, beyond its satirical and entertainment value, the dramatic episode highlighted something telling: That Mugabe has now fallen from grace to grass.
If one takes the “Mugabe must go” protests in Zambia earlier this year, the Nigerian fiasco and the general disdain with which some Africans now appear to hold him, it becomes clear the past master has lost it. His tumble at the Harare International Airport in February symbolised his declining reputation, status and prestige.
While Mugabe as a person and an elder must always be respected in the true African ubuntu tradition, his dereliction of duty of late further shows there is nothing respectable about his leadership anymore.
His disastrous record of misrule and attendant transgressions has damaged his image and left him almost appearing like a laughing stock among other statesmen.
In fact, his detractors now hold him in contempt or ridicule, something which as professional journalists we should never entertain or do.
It is however true in some circles, particularly those in the dark about the impact of his rule or who are hostages to nostalgia or ideological considerations, Mugabe is still held in high esteem. That’s why he still gets decent electoral support and approval ratings in opinion surveys, never mind their flaws and dodgy quality.
In fact, he sometimes gets standing ovations when he visits places like South Africa where the marginalised poor in one of the world’s most unequal societies, who ironically are hostile to Zimbabwean immigrants forced out by his failures at home, still think he embodies their cause and gives expression to their struggles.
When he came to power in 1980 on the crest of a wave of popular support, Mugabe preached reconciliation, peace, and social cohesion even though his posturing belied the reality on the ground: sinister plans for a vicious crackdown on his political rivals and concomitant human rights abuses on a massive scale with North Korea’s backing to consolidate power and his one-party state project.
Even then Mugabe dined and wined with royalty and hogged the global spotlight, getting recognition and awards, including a later withdrawn honorary British Knighthood, but now his world is coming down crashing on him due to his failed authoritarian rule.