PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s chairmanship of Sadc and AU is proving to be a poisoned chalice in some respects.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Mleya
While it initially appeared like a good opportunity for him to hog the limelight, show Africa he is a progressive elderly statesman and salvage his tattered legacy, it is also exposing him as a leader who belongs to the past.
Whichever way one looks at it, Mugabe is past his sell-by date. He has no modern leadership qualities. His style, as well as tone, posture and bearing, is authoritarian and toxic.
Of late Mugabe has been gallivanting around the world and that has caused serious problems at home as he has been widely accused of dereliction of duty by citizens who want him to stop globetrotting and focus on economic troubles buffeting the country. This was raised by the opposition in parliament on Wednesday.
It has also brought his claims of being patriotic into serious question. If he is truly a patriot as he would have us believe, he must take stock of his rule and ask whether his protracted reign has improved his country and the people’s lot.
At some point — and now is the opportune time — Mugabe needs to look at the bigger picture and stop being driven by personal interest and self-preservation.
He needs to think about his own country first for a change, not his political survival.
However, Mugabe would not do that until hell freezes over. He is comfortable living in the past, pontificating about his liberation struggle heroics and weltering in anti-imperialist rhetoric — things which don’t help anything.
Africa would have noticed that Mugabe has no interest in the future even though forward momentum is everything in modern politics.
At 91 and frail, trying to string cohesive and coherent positions on issues is proving difficult for him. Besides, as a cantankerous and sabre-ratting leader he does not use positive influence or persuasion to win the hearts and minds. For him it’s always take it or leave it.
This has been his approach to policy and governance since 1980. From Gukurahundi to indigenisation, negotiation and persuasion have never been his policy instruments of choice.
He prefers threats, repression and violence.
Mugabe seems to have never understood the power of persuasion in leadership. The power to persuade is a tool he needs in his toolbox to navigate complex issues in today’s matrix of leadership and governance.
Mugabe’s unexpected roller-coaster in Nigeria recently after an ambush by local journalists who confronted him over when he will quit — during his counterpart Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration — highlighted something telling: That he has now fallen from grace to grass even though one of the reporters Adeola Fayehum later made a sarcastic apology to him.
Then there was his view on third terms or perpetual incumbency in Africa. It was rather embarrassing to hear Mugabe, in power for 35 years without a break, defending third-termism or long tenures in this day and age, while ignoring the growing trend on the continent and Zimbabweans’ own verdict on the issue.
An overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans want two-term presidential limits despite his claims that limited tenures are unnecessary as people should choose how long their leaders stay in power.
Mugabe came out as a denizen from the past when he sided with fellow long-serving and emerging dictators who don’t want to relinquish power. He ignominiously said two terms could feel as short as two weeks even though he knew that Zimbabweans overwhelmingly voted for a new constitution in 2013 which has term limits as one of its central new features.
Since the 2013 elections victory, Zanu PF has failed to secure broad-based legitimacy for Mugabe and Zimbabwe is still waiting for the future.