Former Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe breathed his last in the wee hours of Friday, drawing strong emotions of nostalgia and loathing almost in equal measure. There are those who celebrated his relentless fight for the southern African nation’s independence from the British in his younger days.
Indeed, at one point, he was jailed for over ten years for his push to have black Zimbabwean attain self-rule and regain their land from the minority whites. He also joined hands with other African leaders at the time, agitating for independence from European masters.
For his sacrifice and campaign for Africa’s unity, he goes down as among the original Pan-Africanist heroes. When several African leaders joined sympathisers of colonialism, he bravely fought against European domination in Africa. They wanted Africans to be in charge of their own affairs and resources without outside interference.
Comrade Bob, as he was fondly referred to, then took over Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 as the Prime Minister, then as President from 1987 until 2017. Now, his reign in the mineral-rich and fertile nation is a paradoxical lesson in how to run a country and how not to do it. During his early days as the leader of Zimbabwe, the country enjoyed phenomenal growth and even became a darling of the West, especially Britain.
However, the honeymoon was brutally short, when President Mugabe supported return of huge swathes of land owned by the Whites to Black Zimbabweans without compensation. He was suddenly isolated by the Western powers and around the same time, the country’s economy began to deteriorate. He brutally crushed political opposition. Democracy suffered heavily as blatant rigging became part of each election.
His rival, the late Morgan Tsvangirai was constantly detained and tortured by state agents as freedom of speech became taboo in a once progressive nation. Mugabe’s ignominious exit from power in 2017, orchestrated by the military and replaced by his fired deputy Emerson Mnangagwa, is a huge lesson on why it is self-defeating for any leader to hold onto power for long. Managing political transition is crucial in any country’s quest for progress and genuine development. RIP Bob!