Since the death of Robert Mugabe on September 6, both the local and international media has been saturated with competing, complementary and contradictory obituaries, opinion pieces and narratives about the life, times and legacy of the former president.
However, what was conspicuous by its absence from these competing narratives was the objective analysis and critique of the his Pan-Africanist credentials.
Hence, Mugabe has been hyper-glamourised, romanticised and fetishised predominantly by the non-Zimbabweans continental and diasporan black and African communities as a great Pan-Africanist who, ironically, in majority of the cases have never experienced first-hand a bitter cocktail of his disastrous statecraft, misgovernance, misleadership, avarice and profligacy. Which is clearly the antithesis of virtues of Pan-Africanism.
Accordingly, it is against this backdrop that I attempt to unpack, unravel and expose the hypocrisy, opportunism and self-serving warped Pan-Africanism of Mugabe.
The best place to start interrogating the Pan-Africanist socio-political and cultural outlook of Mugabe is at the inaugural independence celebrations of Zimbabwe.
During the preparatory phase of the independence celebrations of newly-independent Zimbabwe, there was an incident which happened between Mugabe and Edgar Tekere and it has to do with the entertainment side of the independence celebration. This was about which international performing artist was going to headline the Independence Day celebrations.
Paradoxically, Mugabe, who had built a fearsome reputation during the armed struggle as a radical Marxist-Leninist guerrilla leader, chose and wanted a British conservative pop musician Cliff Richard to perform rather than the revolutionary radical international Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley.
Bob Marley, in 1979, had released a Pan-Africanist reggae album titled Survival and it includes a song called Zimbabwe, which was dedicated to the new nation’s armed struggle against British colonialism and Rhodesian apartheid. Coupled with the fact Zanu and Zanla propaganda pirate radio station, Voice of Zimbabwe, regularly played Bob Marley revolutionary songs which inspired the freedom fighters.
Therefore, the choice of Cliff Richard was out of touch and out of sync with the occasion celebrating the birth of a nation that came through a revolutionary armed struggle. Nonetheless, Tekere’s choice of Bob Marley prevailed over Mugabe’s choice.
Another interesting dimension to demystify and expose the narrow Pan-Africanist credentials of Mugabe can be gleaned from one of the early interviews he conducted with BBC soon after being inaugurated as the then first black prime minister of independent Zimbabwe. During the course of the interview, Mugabe was asked whether his government is going to provide logistical support and military bases to South African liberation movements.
Mugabe unequivocally said no he is not going to open up Zimbabwe’s southern border to either ANC or the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) to launch guerrilla incursions into apartheid South Africa. This exposes Mugabe’s foreign policy was diametrically opposed to the Cold War-era Frontline States Pan-Africanism of the likes of Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and Samora Machel who, during the height of the Cold War geopolitical contestations of anti-colonial struggles in Southern Africa, they had mortgaged their countries and meagre resources in support of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia in their quest for self-determination and independence.
This refusal by Mugabe to provide military bases to South African anti-apartheid liberation movements was analogous to a younger brother in a family who had been supported by other elder brothers to attain his education. However, upon completing his education, he selfishly refuses to help his other younger brother to attain the similar education he was assisted to acquire.
Thus, if Mugabe had taken over the relay baton from the Frontline States, continued with the spirit of Pan-Africanism brotherhood of Kaunda, Nyerere and Machel, and replicated the support Zimbabwe got from the holy trinity of this grouping, South Africa would have probably and arguably got its independence earlier than 1994.
Zimbabwe embarked on its land reform programme during the heightened periods of geopolitical, military and socio-economic global dynamics that played out at the global stage which inevitably pitted the Global South against the Global North.
Accordingly, globalisation was an anathema to the developing world which they saw as another sanitised and deodorised version of the detested and highly unpopular Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap). This was coupled with Anglo-American calamitous military and regime change agendas misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was against this background that Mugabe straddles the world stage and tapped into anti-globalisation and anti-regime change agenda sentiments which were permeating across the Global South. Accordingly, Mugabe opportunistically framed the whole debate on land reform in terms of us against them, and self-imposed himself as the David of the developing world who was taking on imperialistic Goliath of the developed world, particularly Britain and America.
Therefore, when both the diasporan and continental African communities and also the African American communities and other people of African descent domiciled in Europe who struggled with the vicious legacy of white supremacy and who are confronted daily with institutionalised racism and discrimination in their respective countries.
They saw Mugabe, therefore, taking command of bully pulpit at international fora such as the UN General Assembly and World Earth Summit 2002 in Durban, South Africa, and the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit in Rome Italy 2004, speaking truth to power and truth to the powerless, exposing the hypocrisy, double standards and the shenanigans of Western imperial powers’ neo imperialist policies and military misadventures in troubled world hotspots such as Palestine, Iraqi and Libya. They became so intoxicated and mesmerised by his courage and rhetorical dexterity and oratorical brilliance. Thus, they became emotionally attached with his political outlook and speeches.
It is instructive to note that during the first 19 years of his rulership, Mugabe speeches and rhetoric at both local public gatherings and international fora was measured, conservative and moderate. It was not at all punctuated with bombastic and fiery Pan-Africanist lexicon.
This only came about at the turn of the new millennium due to the existential threat he faced to his position coming from the then labour-backed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic.
However, despite the land reform programme being packaged and publicised for international audience by Mugabe at international fora in Pan-Africanist, anti-imperialist and anti-globalisation jargon, on the homefront the process itself was plagued with elitism, nepotism, corruption, patronage and extractionist-primitive accumulation.
For instance, Mugabe and his family were reputed of owning 14 large prime commercial farms. Hence, there has been growing chorus for implementing the fourth wave of land redistribution. This time redistributing land from indigenous minority elites havegots to the indigenous majority have-nots.
Furthermore, while he was extravagantly building himself a multimillion grandiose the Blue Roof mansion at the same time, he was embarking on scorched-earth and callous destruction of homes and houses of urban underclassed pooretariats. In an infamous clean-up code-named “Operation Murambatsvina”, which was in its intents and purposes, a euphemism for vindictive war on poor urbanites who had switched their political allegiance to the opposition.
Every January of each year was the period where Mugabe was on his annual leave. However, as someone who since 2000 had used every international platform to extoll the value and virtues of Pan-Africanism, one would have thought he would spend his annual leave either in Zimbabwe or in any other parts of Africa.
Nonetheless, he would snub the motherland and go holidaying in opulence and luxury of Singapore. His propensity for obscene consumption was the antithesis and in direct conflict of the austere and frugal lifestyles of genuine Pan-Africanists such as Thomas Sankara and Nyerere. Sankara was driven in an ordinary simple Renault car instead of a luxurious Mercedes-Benz limousine which is the norm among African presidents.
The education sector and the health sector has often been quoted as one of the signature achievements of Mugabe in post-independent Zimbabwe. Ironically, his children when they sought university education, he decided to send them to Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai.
If it wasn’t for the travel bans and targeted sanctions imposed on him and his family by the United States and the European Union, he would have definitely sent them to America or Europe for their university education.
This was coming from a man who was the chancellor of all state universities in Zimbabwe. In terms of his personal health, the self-avowed Pan-Africanist Mugabe shunned both Zimbabwe or any African medical facility and instead sought medical attention in Singapore.
Paradoxically, Nelson Mandela, who had been unfairly castigated and crucified in Pan-Africanist and black consciousness circles for failing to redistribute land in South Africa, throughout his illness and till death was treated in South Africa despite him having such a huge attractive international profile that could have allowed him to be treated in any parts of the developed world.
The unfair comparison of Mandela and Mugabe fails to take into account that of the five years Mandela served as president of South Africa, were distinctly similar to the first years of Mugabe as the leader of post-independent Zimbabwe.
Because they were all underpinned by the similar policies of reconciliation, inclusivity and rainbowism. Furthermore, it took Mugabe 20 years and the threat of electoral loss to go nuclear on land reform. However, Mugabe has the ignominy record of being the first senior politician in Zimbabwe to die being treated outside the borders of Zimbabwe. After all his peers and right-hand men such as Muzenda, Joshua Nkomo and his first wife Sally Mugabe all died being treated at local medical facilities.
In this article, I attempted to objectively scrutinise and at the same time spotlight the often-overlooked blind spots of the hyper glamourised and lionised Pan-Africanist credentials, values and principles of Mugabe.
Accordingly, the image of the wreath decorated grandiose, extravagant entrance to the expanse luxurious Blue Roof mansion of the late Mugabe which dominated the social media platform over the last few days. It was archetypal of obscene opulence in a sea of abject poverty.
Clearly, it exposes how Mugabe had selfishly exploited the gospel of Pan-Africanism on the global stage to serve his own self-serving agenda of power retention at all costs, and primitive accumulation, hence Mugabe was a pseudo and plastic Pan-Africanist.Denhere is a Canadian-based human rights lawyer.