An expensive populism
Posted by CM on July 7, 2007
From the Vibe Ghana website, featured on July 2, 2007 :
I am still a disciple of Nkrumah – Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on Sunday aroused the spirit of Ghanaians when he said that he was still a disciple of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. Addressing a mini-rally at Old Polo Ground, now renamed the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, where Nkrumah delivered his famous independence speech in 1960, President Mugabe said it was the teachings of the late Pan-Africanist that fired him up to liberate Zimbabwe in 1980 from British colonial rule.
Mugabe, who received a rousing welcome on Saturday at Kotoka International Airport in Accra on his arrival for the ninth ordinary session of heads of state and government summit which opened in Accra on Sunday, recounted his experience when he came to Ghana as a teacher to be trained as a freedom fighter by his late mentor.
He said he taught at Apowa Secondary School in Sekondi-Takoradi where he met and married his late Ghanaian wife, Sally. He also said his ZANU PF party cadres were trained in Ghana. Mugabe aroused the crowd when he said he was personally taught by the late Nkrumah at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute then located in the central city of Winneba.
“Nkrumah was a great African personality whose ideology must be preached to Africans irrespective of one’s political ideology,” he said amid cheers.
President Mugabe took time to explain to the crowd the controversial land reforms in his country, and he again blamed Tony Blair for lack of political will to implement the 1979 Lancaster Accord which required Britain to fund the compensations for land acquisition.
He said it was high time Africa united and pulled its resources together for the betterment of the continent. “After 44 years when Nkrumah called for a united government, some African leaders are still calling for a gradual approach. The time for a union government is now,” he said.
President Mugabe and Muammar Al Gadhafi of Libya are the only two African leaders who have received rousing welcome from Ghanaians among the leaders attending the AU Summit, probably because of their radicalism against western powers.
Well, one can certainly understand how someone who is inundated with negative reports and images about himself in much of the world media would warm to the rarely encountered appreciative audience.
And unlike some others, I do not find it hard to understand why Mugabe stirs the hearts of many Africans due to the deeply felt, still unresolved feeling of grievance over the humiliations of colonialism. These have been compounded by the dissapointments and disillusionments of the post-colonial era felt by many Africans. Agree with these feelings or not, it has been a gap in the understanding of African dynamics, particularly but not only amongst westerners, to ignore this significant psychological factor. It helps to explain phenomena like African attitudes towards land reform in Zimbabwe that by all objective criteria up to this point would seem to have done the opposite of its claimed aims to improve the lot of the majority.
It’s all very well to work up a crowd in distant Accra, Ghana by telling them what you know they want to hear and massaging their sense of national pride by heaping praise on their national icon. But the important audience to sway is the home crowd back in Harare; and not just by “back in Nkrumah’s day” nostalgia, but by results!
Putting aside the controversial legacy of Nkrumah, the point is that forty years after his hey day, the African leaders of today are required to do so much more than just invoke his name, speeches and memory. Whereas his thoughts on African independence, economic empowerment and unity were inspiring partly because they were so radical and inspiring for their day, now the needs for these values is taken for granted. What is lacking are African leaders with the radicalism, boldness, ideas and seriousness of purpose to implement them!
Whereas Nkrumah could in his time achieve mythic status by just thinking and expressing these thoughts to an appreciative, long-battered African psyche that needed lifting up, now that still battered African psyche requires more to repair and inspire it : examples of success. No matter how effective a spokesman Mugabe and people like him might be to the cheering Accra audience, the shambolic state of his country after close to 30 years under his tutelage is hardly a good model of “pulling resources together for the betterment of the continent!”
Those among the audience who knew the current state of Zimbabwe probably did not care as they do not have to live under its shockingly and shamefully deteriorating conditions. They can afford to separate the speaker’s rhetoric from the examples of his failures to positively implement that rhetoric at home, in a way Zimbabweans do not have the luxury to do.
As sad as the situation is, there is also something cynically sad about Mugabe speechifying as if he still the scrappy, youthful, revolutionary outsider trying to bash his way into the system of power to radically change it for the benefit of “the masses.” Instead he is an old, long-reigning, bourgeoise ruler; the consumate “insider” as president for 27 years, in which his people’s lot has declined in dramatic fashion! How diabolically ironic to still be trying to grab the mantle of “man of the people” under these circumstances, and how sad that even in distant-from-Harare Accra, there should still be people who are willing to fall for it.
If you have failed to thwart the various “plots” against you that you allege, in order to still show examples of national success (a là Cuba with regards to agriculture, health and social welfare despite decades of declared sanctions by the US) , what really is it then that you have to offer? If anything, the dilapidation of your country is a constant mockery of your rhetoric!
Regardless of how thunderously the Accra crowd cheered Mugabe, it is when the general populace in Africa insist on the delivery of results, rather than just rhetoric contradicted by the legacy of its deliverer, that perhaps African rulers will begin to feel some pressure to actually be seen to be performing, or at least trying. It is hard to concede even this little bit for Zimbabwe’s present rulers when you look at where the country is now, compared to where it has been and where it could and should be today.