Monday, 16 September 2019

37 years of Robert Mugabe

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There are 1001 things I could say about Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the man who outlasted nearly every friend and foe in his long and eventful career as a freedom fighter, African nationalist, bush warrior, politician and African statesman.

By the time he was forced out in November 2017 after 37 years in power, Mugabe had outlasted three of his vice presidents. Vice President John Nkomo, who died in 2013, was Mugabe’s third vice president in 13 years. He succeeded Joseph Msika who died in 2009. Msika succeeded great old man Joshua Nkomo, who died in 1999. Mugabe’s last vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is now Zimbabwe’s president after a failed attempt to replace him with Grace Mugabe.

In March 1980, Robert Gabriel Mugabe became Prime Minister of newly independent Zimbabwe after two decades in the bush as a guerilla fighter who survived many assassination attempts by the White-settler Rhodesian government as well as torturous negotiations hosted by the British Government at Lancaster House in London. On the night that Mugabe’s ZANU-PF won the independence elections, I spent the whole night in Sokoto partying with Zimbabwean students at the Federal College of Arts and Science. Nearly 40 years later, I am again celebrating Robert Mugabe.

Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary who presided over the 1979 Lancaster House talks, died last year at the age of 99, months after Mugabe left office. US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who helped to broker the peace agreement, left that post 38 years ago and is now 87. Lord Soames, the last British colonial governor of Rhodesia, died in 1987, 30 years before Mugabe left office.

Robert Mugabe saw the backs of almost all his enemies in the independence struggle. Lt General Peter Walls, commander of the Rhodesian Army that pursued Mugabe’s ZANLA guerillas up and down the bushes of Mashonaland, died in 2010. Ian Smith, leader of the rebel White settlers who declared Unilateral Declaration of Independence [UDI] in 1965, died 12 years ago. Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ian Smith’s partner in the “internal settlement” of 1977, died in 2010. Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, who also collaborated in “internal settlement,” died 19 years ago.

Robert Mugabe saw off his ZAPU partners turned deadly enemies, before they reconciled again. Apart from ZAPU-PF leader and ZIPRA Commander-in-Chief Joshua Nkomo, who died 20 years ago, top ZIPRA commanders who bravely fought Ian Smith from Zambia, namely Lt Gen Dumiso Dabengwa and Major General Lookout Masuku were imprisoned by Mugabe in 1981 for allegedly concealing weapons at a Bulawayo farm. Masuku died 33 years ago while Dabengwa died four months ago.

General Josiah Tongogara, the famed commander of Mugabe’s ZANLA, died in Maputo four months before Mugabe assumed power. Mugabe outlasted most of Zimbabwe’s early ministers, including the controversial Edgar Tekere, who died in 2011. Dr Stan Mudenge died in 2012 while the great former Finance Minister Dr. Enos Nkala died a year later. Reverend Canaan Banana, Zimbabwe’s president in 1980-87 when Mugabe was prime minister, died in 2003. Even Morgan Tsvangirai, who posed the most effective democratic challenge to Mugabe, died last year. Veteran Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa is the only ZAPU top shot that survived Mugabe.

Of Mugabe’s great comrades to the east, his former host President Samora Machel of Mozambique died in a plane crash in 1986. Even Machel’s successor Joachim Chissano left power 15 years ago and Chissano’s successor left power two years before Mugabe. President Kenneth Kaunda, who provided military bases to Nkomo’s ZIPRA guerillas in Zambia, left power 28 years ago. Mugabe outlasted four of Kaunda’s successors, including the white man Guy Scott. Mugabe saw off three presidents of Zimbabwe’s neighbour Botswana: Sir Seretse Khama, Quett Masire and Festus Mogae. Former President Ian Khama narrowly outlasted Mugabe.

When Mugabe came to power in 1980, President P.W. Botha ruled across the heavily fortified border in Apartheid South Africa. Die Groot Krokodil died 13 years ago. Apartheid rule itself ended 25 years ago but Mugabe saw off three South African presidents. Jacob Zuma survived Mugabe by only three months. Namibia, his robust SADCC partner to the west, was still under brutal South African occupation when Mugabe came to power. SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma, who like Mugabe waged a guerilla war from the bushes of southern Angola, only came to power 10 years after Mugabe, ruled for 15 years and left 12 years before Mugabe did.

In SWAPO’s old protector Angola, Mugabe only just missed Agostinho Neto, who died in 1979. However, Neto’s successor Eduardo Dos Santos, who ruled for 38 years, left just before Mugabe. All the great men who ruled East Africa when Mugabe came to power are long gone. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere left Tanzania’s presidency in 1985 and Mugabe outlasted three of Nyerere’s successors, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete. Kenya’s redoubtable Daniel arap Moi is long gone and Uganda’s Milton Obote was banished again from power 34 years ago.

Further up the African Rift Valley in Ethiopia, Mugabe’s great old friend Lt Col Mengistu Haile Mariam has been out of power for 28 years now. In fact, Mugabe provided him with shelter there in Zimbabwe. Meles Zenawi, who succeeded Mengistu and who pressed Mugabe very hard to repatriate him, ruled Ethiopia for 20 years and died in 2012, with Mugabe still in power.

All over Africa, sit-tight rulers departed and left Mugabe. In Chad here, Goukouni Ouddeye was still heading the GUNT when Mugabe came to power. Hissene Habre sneaked in in 1981 and banished Goukouni. Idris Deby Itno banished Habre 10 years later, but Mugabe coexisted with Deby for 26 years. From Ghana, Dr Hilla Limann attended Mugabe’s inauguration in his flowing white robes. A year later, Jerry Rawlings banished Hilla Limann and went on to rule again for 20 years. Still, Mugabe outlasted Rawlings and three more Ghanaian presidents John Kufuor, John Atta Mills and John Mahama.

In March 1980, Alhaji Shehu Shagari did a national broadcast one night and said, “On the eve of my departure for Zimbabwe” to attend Mugabe’s inauguration, he set up a committee to probe the N2.8bn scandal. 34 years after Shagari left office, Mugabe was still there. Olusegun Obasanjo, who left when the Lancaster House talks were underway, returned to power in Nigeria 20 years later only to find Mugabe. Obasanjo left again 8 years later but Mugabe soldiered on for another ten years. General Muhammadu Buhari ruled alongside Mugabe in 1983-85 but when he returned to power 30 years later, Mugabe was still there.

Robert Mugabe outlasted even the Egyptian Pharaohs. Mugabe was in power when assassins killed Anwar Sadat in 1981. Although Egyptian “Arab Spring” protesters alleged that Hosni Mubarak had overstayed, Mugabe saw his coming in 1981 and also witnessed his fall in 2011. Mugabe even saw off Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years but left 6 years before Mugabe. Apart from Dos Santos and Gaddafi, the only African rulers to surpass Mugabe’s longevity in power are Cameroun’s Paul Biya, who has been ruling since 1982, and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who took over at the same time as Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

Robert Mugabe entered the ranks of the world champions in rulership longevity, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro [1959-2008], Paraguay’s General Alfredo Stroessner [1954-1989], Syria’s Hafiz al-Assad [1971-2000] and Iraq’s Sadam Hussein al-Tikriti [1979-2003]. Only Japanese Emperor Hirohito, 1926-1989; Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand 1946-2016 and British Queen Elizabeth, since 1953, beat these men.

Robert Mugabe saw off three Saudi Kings: Khalid who died in 1982, Fahd who died in 2005 and Abdullah who died in 2015. Mugabe saw off five French Presidents: Giscard D’Estaing, Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Mugabe saw off five British Prime Ministers: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. He saw off six American Presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior, Bill Clinton, George Bush Junior and Barack Obama.

Look, Mugabe even saw off five general secretaries of the Chinese Communist Party: Hua Guofeng, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Great men came, saw and left Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

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