IF it was not tragic, Zimbabweans would have probably laughed at how President Robert Mugabe and his coterie of hangers-on fell back to their old ways of blaming the West, the opposition and everybody else other than themselves for the socio-economic problems afflicting the country.
On July 1, violent protests rocked the border town of Beitbridge leaving property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars destroyed. This was after government issued a wholesale ban on the importation of several basic goods, thus destroying the livelihoods of many ordinary people who depend on buying and selling imports whom the state purported to be protecting through Statutory Instrument 64/2016. The statute is a drawback to the Rhodesian era where it was first used in 1964 by a minority regime under different material conditions.
On July 4 commuter omnibus crews from Epworth, Mabvuku and Tafara protested against the high police presence on the country’s roads resulting in running battles between the police and some touts.
Two days later Zimbabweans stayed away from work after Pastor Evan Mawarire who started the #ThisFlag movement called for a national shutdown to protest against the deteriorating economic conditions which has resulted in company closures, high unemployment levels and a severe liquidity crunch, including cash shortages. The stay-away resulted in running battles between the police and some residents of Mufakose in Harare and Makokoba in Bulawayo.
On Saturday last week, MDC-T vice-president Thokozani Khupe led thousands of women in Bulawayo to demonstrate against Mugabe’s misrule which has impoverished Zimbabweans.
“These pots that we are beating are no longer cooking anything at home, this is why we brought them to say we no longer have anything to cook. We are starving,” she told the women who took part in the march dubbed the #beatthepot protest.
The protests, including last week’s related events, reflected the frustration of ordinary people in the face of the economic crisis.
But to Mugabe and his minions’ way of thinking, Zimbabweans are still in the childhood phase of humanity and therefore incapable of rational analysis and appreciation of their material conditions of existence. They cannot possibly stage any protests whether peaceful or violent against their government except with foreign instigation.
According to Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist and consultant, this kind of behaviour by Mugabe is typical of tyrants who “first refuge is to blame someone else for the messes they make”.
“The first chapter of the Dictators’ Handbook instructs practitioners to find an external enemy to help them preserve their rule,” Ghitis wrote in an article titled When all else fails, blame the US.
In their book titled Dictator’s Handbook: A Practical Manual for the Aspiring Tyrant, Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca noted that dictators will always “attack the attackable”.
And true to the “dictators’ handbook”, Mugabe and his officials attacked the Americans, the French, South Africans, opposition political parties and practically everyone else but themselves for the socio-economic problems and the consequent protests.
First out of the blocks was State Security minister Kembo Mohadi, a native of Beitbridge, where the protests started, who claimed a “Third Force’’ was behind the protests.
His rants were amplified by Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo who claimed US ambassador Harry Thomas Jr and his French counterpart, Laurent Delahousse helped engineer protests in Harare and Bulawayo.
And Mugabe would not be left out of the blame game telling Zanu PF supporters last Friday in Bindura that civil servants “don’t understand” government is “yet to shake off some problems” of western sanctions, hence its failure to pay their salaries on time.
In the universal chorus of shifting blame, only Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa had a different narrative somehow last week when he told a gathering of local business people that import restrictions such as those that had triggered the Beitbridge protests were not sustainable. However, even this refreshing candour did not last long as Mnangagwa subsequently told the same gathering that South African business people sponsored the protests.
In shifting the blame, Mugabe and his regime simply travelled down the well-beaten path of fellow tyrants like Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler who rode to power in the 1930s by infamously claiming that Germany had not been defeated in the war nor was it responsible for the socio-economic crisis but “had been stabbed in the back by Jews and Communists”.
Suffice to say, the resultant wave of anti-Semitism sparked a genocide which reportedly resulted in the deaths of over six million Jews but did not solve the socio-economic problems of the Germans.
The Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin also blamed Western capitalists and their supposed local surrogates the Kulaks for the country’s food shortages in the 1930s and embarked on a sustained campaign which resulted in the liquidation of that class of hitherto thriving individual landowners.
Closer to home, the 1980s South African President PW Botha whipped up anti-communist sentiments to justify the existence of apartheid policies.
More recently, rulers like Russia’s Vladimir Putin labelled protesters as Western agents, while the late Venezuelan communist tyrant Hugo Chavez blamed foreign capitalist conspiracies for every problem caused by his populist policies. And as noted by Ghitis, “this foreign conspiracy narrative is not simply a denial of facts — it’s a deliberate political strategy with specific goals”.
“By blaming mysterious and powerful outsiders, rulers can shift their problems and distract the population from their legitimate grievances. And when it really works, the tactic can rally the people behind the leader as they passionately take up the cause against evil foreigners who would harm their country,” Ghitis added.
Political analyst and Zimbabwe Institute of Democracy director Pedzisayi Ruhanya said as an oppressive government, “Zanu PF will always look for scapegoats for their own failures to address citizens’ problems”.