by Chido Makunike
I am trying to decide who to go and vote for in the presidential election of March 29.
For such a hyped election, and with all the problems in Zimbabwe that are crying out for concrete plans of actions, there is precious little the candidates have given in the campaign so far to help guide and woo the voters.
One candidate in particular puzzles me. He is the long “serving” incumbent, Robert Mugabe. Actually “long-sitting” may be more appropriate.
If Mugabe has an election manifesto, I am not aware of it. Perhaps he believes his record of 27 years as the incumbent “speaks for itself.”
But what it speaks is far from flattering to him. The people he rules are demoralised, reduced to scratching for survival in a rich country. Shortages are rife, including of everyday goods, running water and electricity. The infrastructure is crumbling from many years of neglect. Ruling over the country is fear; of officialdom in general and of Mugabe in particular.
Nothing could have “spoken” about Mugabe’s rule more eloquently than his own government’s announcement last week that annual inflation now stood at the astonishing level of 66,000%!
How does someone stand for re-election on such a disgraceful record? Why is he offering himself for re-election at all when it would seem obvious that he is a failed leader?
Why he would expect the electorate to vote for him in significant numbers despite the incontrovertible proof of his record of brutality and incompetence is one obvious question. But another one is why, regardless of the level of “support” he “enjoys,” he would choose to prolong and entrench “his” peoples’ suffering with five more years of his mis-rule.
Surely, whatever common decency Mr. Mugabe still retains requires him to stand aside to give the country a chance to stem the continued decline that is assured with him “in charge?” Even if he still imagines himself to have significant support, the kindest thing he could do for his supporters would be to say, “thank you for continuing to back me despite all my failures, but out of compassionate support for your welfare, I am withdrawing myself from the presidential race.”
This a move that is admittedly unlikely for a man who is not known for compassion. He is a person who confuses a rigid obstinance with principle. You have lost your way when the only “principles” you are defending are just the lengths to which you will go to want to wear the title of president, long after you have failed to give that title any respectable, positive or productive meaning.
Mr. Mugabe, why are you doing this? Why are you so cruel as to want to inflict five more years of your bungling and repression on the people of Zimbabwe? Do you feel no embarrassment whatsover to have presided over the decimation of Zimbabwe? Mr. Mugabe, are you still capable of feeling any shame or has the over-riding, misguided need to present a facade of a defiant “toughness” completely obliterated any semblance of common decency in you?
There are praise singers of Mugabe’s who say he must continue at the helm to safeguard the gains of “the revolution” for “sovereignty” and the land. But Mr. Mugabe is 84 and realistically, could drop dead any day despite his good health. It does not speak much for the depth of the “revolution” that its permanence is claimed to rest on the now very tenuous life expectancy of one old man!
Is how long Mugabe lives the only thing ensuring that “the revolution” is secure? If so, it is not a real revolution, and he and his supporters are right to worry that much of his legacy will be unraveled by future reformers. But it also means that even if he had another 20 years of life and in power, many of the things he has instituded are more likely to be un-done than to be preserved.
A “revolution” suggests wholesale changes whose benefits are so clear that there is widespread support to hold on to them. Mugabe’s praise singers do not seem to have this confidence towards his legacy.
There is another serious flaw with the argument that “the revolution” may fall to pieces without Mugabe at the helm. Even if one fervently supported all of Mugabe’s measures over the years, particularly in regards to land management, Mugabe is the least qualified person to take the country forward to the next step.
The way land ownership was suddenly changed in Zimbabwe has so far proven to be disastrous for agricultural productivity. It has so far defied a decade’s efforts by Mugabe and his team to reverse farming productivity.
But let us assume that despite the mess of the methods, it needed a “to hell with the whites/West’s disapproval” attitude of a Mugabe to overwhelmingly change land ownership from a few thousand whites to Africans.
What would have sealed the “Mugabe is right” argument would have been signs of a return to productivity under the new farmers. This would have spoken much louder than all the shouting about the liberation war, colonialism and its dispossessions and so forth. If he had been smart enough to have a proper plan to aggressively equip the new farmers to begin to increase agricultural productivity with each passing year of experience and government support, the world uproar and the shock of how the reform of ownership patterns was done would have subsided over time.
But practical issues like this are not Mugabe’s strong points. He shines in articulating broad ideological or political issues, such as the way he stoked long-lingering black resentment over the colonial/racial indignities of the not so distant past and their present day effects. Yet the most pressing task today is to encourage and/or force the new farmers to become dramatically more productive as a kick-start to addressing the economy’s many problems. Hyper-inflation, the currency’s depreciation, shortages and so on can all ultimately be reversed by more serious attention to reversing the decline in agriculture.
Doing so will not be easy, but it is far from impossible. And it is a much more realistic plan to dealing with the country’s economic problems than the constant cry of “illegal Western sanctions” that has become the all-encompassing excuse for Mugabe’s economic illiteracy, diplomatic incompetence and strategic political miscalculations.
Yet for many reasons, the prospects of improved agricultural and general economic improvement will remain remote as long as it is Mugabe ruling the country. Having thousands of non-productive hangers-on just sitting on potentially agro-productive land for speculative purposes is an integral part of how he dispenses the patronage that allows him to hang on despite the decay all around him. Investment even from still friendly countries like China will not be forthcoming as long as the political and economic conditions to make those investments fruitful remain absent, which they will do long as Mugabe continues at the helm.
So even by the claimed reason of entrenching land reform, never has there been a more urgent need for incompetent Mugabe to go. The “revolution” cannot be secured by Mugabe’s staying in power for another term or by whatever number of months or years he will remain alive. It can best be secured by ensuring that the new farmers are making viable businesses of their farms. If Mugabe had been able to see this early on and work hard to bring it about, then even any sanctions- declared, undeclared, legal or otherwise- would not have made much difference.
The fact that investors are largely avoiding Zimbabwe like the plague only compounded the underlying problem of the country being decreasingly productive in agriculture and in the many other linked spheres. Reversing this is beyond the scope of Mugabe’s capabilities. He has a hard time accepting that there are realities that are unpalatable but beyond his control. Standing his ground on what he considers ideological issues is far more important to him than practical issues like whether the country can feed itself or not, or that it has many world record negative economic indices.
To him the “sovereignty” he ceaselessly talks about only needs to end at rhetoric. He sees no shame or contradiction in shouting “sovereignty” to the political gallery when an increasing number of his fellow citizens must depend on international hand-outs for food. And this at the very same time he says he is spearheading a land revolution! His mind simply does not appear to work in a way in which it is possible for him to see how his rhetoric is being contradicted and diminished by the on-the-ground realities of the state of Zimbabwe.
The irony is that the longer he stays in power and continues on his present non-working path, the greater the prospects that when he does go, there will be a mad rush to dismantle all that is associated with him. So his so desperately and tenaciously clinging to power might not serve to ensure security for his legacy of dramatically reversing one of colonialism’s most grievous acts in the mind of most Africans, but may actually do the opposite!
It is possible that he sees all this but is so afraid of the consequences of being deposed that he has decided to do whatever it takes to die in office. If he can cobble together another term by an even half-credible election, this is how he would prefer to continue in power. But if there is any real threat to his doing so electorally, then he might just decide his reputation has been so ruined that he has little to lose by just staying on in office one way or another anyway.
In the latter very likely case, there would be a sort of poetic justice to his remaining time as chief presider over Zimbabweans’ misery. The last shreds of the respectability he so craves and has been steadily losing even amongst die-hards who would like him to succeed would have been stripped away. There would be no more pretense that his staying on for close to 30 years was to defend or consolidate any principle.
Staying on as a largely feared, reviled and ridiculed ruler presiding over a shamefully regressing economy may be a worse punishment for a proud Mugabe than any prosecution he may fear from being deposed at the polls. No matter how much he craves to continue as president, under the present circumstances of failure and decline, he would truly be the feared, isolated emperor whose nakedness everybody is pointing to and whispering about behind his back.
Mugabe is ending his long life and political career in disgraceful fashion. The pitiful and still declining condition of Zimbabwe speaks louder than anything he can say to defend his position. That he wants to prolong the agony of the shameful way he is ending his life and long political career is a measure of how disconnected he has become from reality.