Comment & analysis
Zimbabwe: A time of deafness
2007-03-21, Issue 296
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Mugabe – leadership without vision or a brutal power-drenched dictator who has lost all sense of reality and humanity?
Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, once said the problem of Africa is a problem of leadership without vision. That cannot be truer than recent events in Zimbabwe have proven.
Battered bodies, broken bones, bleeding human flesh. That is all President Robert Mugabe has been able to give to the people he is supposed to protect and lead, in the past few weeks, even before. The president can only offer brutal violence to a nation suffering from so many human catastrophes: economic collapse, shortages of food and fuel, massive unemployment, unprintable inflation figures, and finally, national hopelessness.
'Our people have bad eating habits. They should eat rice and potatoes', he said in the midst of a critical shortage of the staple maize in a country which produces neither.
For President Mugabe, the national vision ends with him. 'L'etat, c'est moi', the leader seems to say. The state is him, and he believes he owns every citizen, and so can do whatever he wants with them. The outside world must not interfere in the 'domestic affairs' of Zimbabwe. The president's vision ends with his own power and self-preservation. Inflicted with deafness and blindness, the president has lost the capacity to see anything else around him. 'He has lost the plot,' as some have said. But the reality is that he has lost any sense of reality. He is totally out of touch with the real world around him.
Zimbabwe introduced a massive education programme in the 1980s, enabling every child to go to school. And the children did. Mugabe's ambition was to have a secondary school in every cluster of villages. He almost succeeded. With such a high thirst for education, the children and teachers flooded the countryside and the cities. Almost every secondary school acted as two: one group comes in the morning, and another in the afternoon, two schools in one.
The educational yields were unbelievable. Zimbabweans still believed in the power and efficacy of education. It was the only way they knew that would take them and their children out of poverty and ignorance. From school, the child would get a job, thus help to save the whole family, including uncles and the whole village. Parents would sell the last chicken, goat or cow to send the child to school, their economic saviour. Teachers, too, were trained in guerrilla-style courses. Those of us already qualified to teach were assisting new teachers to train on the job. This went on until the late 1980s when the World Bank intervened, claiming that Mugabe was giving Zimbabweans too much education which would flood the country with educated but jobless people.
Mugabe had not realised that the education system was producing people who would begin to think for themselves without being necessarily grateful to him. Who could analyse the problems of society on their own, including the root causes of those problems. Unfortunately, they discovered that the Mugabe government had made no plans for a concrete skills programme to equip them to enter the economy at a productive level. Students then started to revolt, and Mugabe was furious. That was when he declared that he had 'degrees in violence', challenging the students and calling them hooligans. If Mugabe had realised the importance of his education programme, he would also have realised that the youths were being given skills to analyse everything and everyone, including him. Now he hates the youth of the country, except those he hires to kill and break the bones of his critics.
Mugabe would have preferred all Zimbabweans to remain illiterate. That is his biggest regret. Even when he addresses villagers, he uses impeccable English, better than Tony Blair and George W. Bush - his arch-enemies.
Like most African leaders, Mugabe hates the situation in which the citizens know their rights and are able to demand them. His philosophy on democracy is what he calls 'guided democracy', which means, as one of his vice-presidents, the late Simon Muzenda, once said, 'If Zanu PF gives you a monkey as a candidate, you have to vote for it'. This arrogance is typical of the Mugabe government since he seriously believes that he is the most intelligent leader in Zimbabwe and the rest of the continent. Mugabe's rule is arrogance - 'arrogancocracy', if such a word exists. His ministers have also taken the cue. And it flows down the ladder to his members of parliament and village leaders who hardly ever visit or consult their constituents.
The current violence in Zimbabwe has also to be understood in the context of the 'liberator mentality'. No liberation war has ever produced a democrat of substance.
'If you don't vote for me, there will be war', Mugabe declared during the presidential campaign of 2002. And being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the army commanders were soon to appear at a press conference in which they declared that they will never salute a president who did not come out of the liberation war. That was a silent military coup. So, even if the opposition leader had won the presidency, he would never have been allowed to go to state house.
The 'liberator' mentality also produces the 'father of the nation' mentality. Mugabe intensely hated Joshua Nkomo because Nkomo was establishing himself as 'the father of the nation' long before anyone knew Mugabe. Hence the violence in the southern provinces from 1983 to 1987. The purpose was to destroy Nkomo's political base and make his supporters realise that Nkomo was vulnerable and easy to destroy. The image had to be destroyed, even if it meant destroying the man himself.
'I liberated you, so I can subdue you and rule as I wish. You must be forever grateful to me', is the thinking. When Mugabe attacks his opponents and critics, he uses the liberation war as a licence to subdue all and sundry, by whatever means.
Former liberation war leaders love things and places named after them. In every town in Zimbabwe, there is a Robert Mugabe street, usually cutting through the centre of the city. In every government building and office, the framed picture of Mugabe looks down at you as if you are under the omnipresent eye of the President. It becomes a god-like symbol reminding every citizen that the demi-god, Mugabe, is watching you, day and night.
In the quest for glory and grandeur, the presidential palace is full of charlatans, praise-singers and flatterers. First they used to call him 'the son of God', and then one minister publicly said 'Mugabe is our Jesus Christ'. Next the minister of education and culture has recently designed and installed a 'throne' in parliament, for 'king Mugabe.' Then the minister of local government would not be outdone. He has decided to build 'a shrine' in Mugabe's home village. A shrine is a place of worship. So the president has become a god who deserves a 'shrine.' Thus, from VaMugabe ndibaba' (Mugabe is our father) to 'the son of God' to 'Jesus Christ' to a 'shrine' a place of worship, God.
When a mortal human is elevated to the status of a god, what can he not do? In biblical terms, God said, 'I am the God of war. I punish children for the sins of their fathers.' Hence President Mugabe, having elevated himself to that level, does not hesitate to inflict pain and death on men, women, children and the rest. All the problems of the country have nothing to do with him. It is all because of the West, Tony Blair and George W. Bush. Were he to admit a mistake, he would lose his infallibility. So, when he was asked many years ago, if he had made any mistake in the governance of the country, he answered, with a straight face: 'none at all'. The violence in Zimbabwe is Mugabe's 'rightful' demand to rule like a god.
African leaders have developed the capacity to transform themselves from elected leaders to royals, then to demigods and finally gods, from a presidential medal to a royal throne to a shrine, in their own lifetime.
Unfortunately, Africa is an extremely religious continent. We love to worship, even if it means creating our own gods in the name of a president. Religious hymns initially meant to praise gods are soon adapted to praise The President. Church uniforms normally depicting angels and Jesus Christ are soon flooded with images of The President. Bank notes are also soon covered with pictures of The President.
Africa is a continent of love and generosity, so we always believe. But somehow it produces such these monstrosities of political and financial power that it boggles the mind. We have a reputation of creating laughter at every occasion, including death. We have the capacity to produce an Idi Amin, a Bokassa, a Mobuto, a Banda, a Mugabe, at the same time that we laugh and dance. Could it be that we laugh and dance too much at the expense of serious business? All one can think of is: if Africa did not laugh, it would be crying all the time. 'We laugh in order not to cry', an African once said.
Not many African leaders have ever bothered to develop the language of democracy. President Mugabe is known to be probably the most foul-mouthed president in the world. There is no word he will not use against the opposition. At one time they are 'dogs', at another they are 'stooges', 'terrorists', 'tea boys,' 'traitors', 'sell-outs', and many other vulgarities only the mother tongue can pronounce. The ethics of language usage do not exist for President Mugabe and his cronies. He has no capacity to realise the implications of using a certain vocabulary in the political arena. When he says 'we will crush the opposition', he does not seem to realise that his youths will physically 'crush' the heads and limbs of his opponents.
'Power is a desolating pestilence,' an Indian scholar once observed. Power consumes human memory and conscience. President Mugabe has been so totally consumed by power that his memory does not seem to be about to rescue him. By training youths to murder and maim, he has destroyed a whole generation which has to be brought up again so they can learn to respect human life, freedom, dignity and compassion. All this in the insane pursuit of power for its own sake, power to loot and plunger the material and spiritual resources of a country.
The powerful in Africa seem to be infected with the diseases of deafness, blindness, and lack of vision of a past, and a future without them. They will kill their own mothers, sisters and brothers, if it makes them remain in power. When they inherit the instruments and technology of torture and oppression, they seem to be so grateful to their colonial masters whom they take pleasure in blaming for other convenient things: 'As Africans peacefully walked to the townships in the afternoon, just as they had walked to work in the morning, they were beaten up, and dogs were let loose on women and children', words of the late Zimbabwean nationalist, Maurice Nyagumbo, as he remembers the colonial rulers' treatment of Africans in Southern Rhodesia in the 1950s.
History, especially in Africa, seems to repeat itself, in different colours of skin and flag.
* Chenjerai Hove is a Zimbabwean writer living in exile in Norway.
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