Robert Mugabe, who died in the waking hours of September 6, 2019, liberated his people, made the country prosperous, bequeathing it with some of the highest literacy levels in the continent, turning the country into the breadbasket of Africa, before plundering the country and plunging it into a nightmarish recession that has proved impossible to recover from.

After Zimbabwe President, Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed his death on Twitter, many Zimbabwe expressed their relief, cursing the former dictator who ruled the country, increasingly with an iron-fist, rigging elections with reckless abandon, all the while, with the help of his cantankerous wife, ZANU-PF stalwarts and a few loyalists, bankrupting the country.

The irony of ruling for 37 years and failing to build a decent hospital where he could die is not lost on Africans. He died in Singapore, a tiny but prosperous country whose founding President Lee Kuan Yew died in a government-owned general hospital in 2015.

Mugabe was famously the most learned president in the world, with earned and honorary degrees, whose impeccable wit, the courage to stand up to imperialists was widely admired. Nobody can take away his credentials in fighting to free his people and extent to which he went to tell off patronizing leaders of the West. To that, we owe him a lot of credit. Very few presidents have been courageous to defend Africa and our ideals as a continent. He was a Pan-African at heart and we will forever remain thankful to remind us the need to stick together.

“He was, from the very beginning, an enigma: a jumble of contradictions that somehow fuelled rather than felled him. He was the Anglophile who hated Britain; the freedom fighter who denied basic rights to his people; the pan-African visionary turned archetypal African dictator; the teacher who refused to learn from his mistakes. He was charming, and he was cruel. He was loved, and then he was hated,” wrote Simon Allison for the Mail and Guardian.

Up to 2000, Mugabe rule is generally well-appraised. But like all dictators, after the third term in power (15 years), they become increasingly trashy, as they grab even more power, making more enemies, becoming increasingly insecure. Their insecurities mean they will line the military, all cabinet positions and any strategic position in government with YES-men, who hide behind the big man to loot the country. It is impossible to imagine that at the age of 89, there were people who within the ZANU-PF thought that he deserved to be the flagbearer of the party, (they won anyway by a landslide, courtesy of rigging, intimidation of the opposition and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party’s credibility had been dented by their time in the coalition government from 2008-2013).

But Mugabe in the 2013 elections, he made it clear that he will rule until "God calls me." Martin Meredith in Our Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe ad the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, observed that power for Mugabe was not a means to an end, but an end itself.

These leaders often deserve whatever fate that befalls them and they don’t deserve any sympathy or a place in our memories and I believe that future generations will erase any monuments erected in the honour, leaving just a few to remind us of their folly of vanity. In Kenya, I would wish just the Nyayo monument in Central Park to stand for Moi and only the KICC statue of Mzee Kenyatta, even that I would wish it is moved to Uhuru Park.)

Most dictators are selfish, insecure and complex figures. Even when educated like Mobutu Sese Seko or Robert Mugabe, they rarely know better. I used to wonder how Mugabe and Gaddafi will exit power. Some dictators are lucky to exit gracefully through death (Albania’s Enver Hoxha-longest ruling dictator who clocked 45 years in power). But many end up embarrassing themselves. I think of Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier (whose father was learned but just as abominable) who was overthrown after a firm grip on power and went on to live in relative penury in France. Omar-el-Bashir of Sudan who looked so invincible up to a year ago was kicked out in disgrace. So did Bokassa who died still hallucinating about the good old days when he could use a third of Africa’s poorest country budget to coronate himself an emperor in the mould of Napoleon. Mobutu, for all his wealth, died and was buried in some roadside grave in Morocco. Mugabe got overthrown and at the age of 93, he never wanted to let it go. Man. So did Gaddafi.

I can forgive people like Idi-Amin and Bokassa whose IQ was famously low. But I am less forgiving of African leaders who have gone to the best schools in the world, traveled the world, know the potential of Africa, but proceed to do absolutely nothing to change the fate of the continent, other than the occasional quip and lip service. And they don’t have to do so much. Just taming their greed, even by half and let citizens get something.

It is always insulting to read how Mugabe’s wife Grace used to shop with millions, living a life of stinky, uncultured opulence, flashy in a country where most citizens live on less than a dollar a day. It is disgusting to hear that Cameroon’s president Paul Biya spends as much as six months holidaying in France. It is appalling that Equatorial Guinea Nguema, who has ruled the country like it is personal property for 40 years after overthrowing his uncle (and having him shot by the beach) and his playboy son is poised to take over from him. Nguema and son own the country, literally. Angola's Eduardo dos Santos thought the successor will be friendly, but he has been pushed to an exile in Spain. 

These leaders often deserve whatever fate that befalls them and they don’t deserve any sympathy or a place in our memories and I believe that future generations will erase any monuments erected in the honour, leaving just a few to remind us of their folly of vanity. In Kenya, I would wish just the Nyayo monument in Central Park to stand for Moi and only the KICC statue of Mzee Kenyatta, even that I would wish it is moved to Uhuru Park.)

It is pointless to extol Mugabe’s academic credential, eloquence and courage to stand up to the Western powers when he ruined one of the most promising countries in the continent.

Anybody who wants to cling to power after 10 years is a dangerous human being. Part of being a mature nation is the ability to believe in the skills and talents of other people to lead. Most dictators, like Moi are so disdainful. He once gathered senior members of KANU in a stadium and said in broad daylight that none was qualified.

One of the ways of salvaging Africa is through democracy. Regular elections, done fairly and honourably guarantee the necessary peace and stability for development. Countries that do so, are always ready for take-off once the culture has been established. Botswana and Senegal are good examples. Zambia too, even though poor, but their good run since 1992 is a good sign of the future.

Countries on the other hand where things are done in the wrong way, elections just a routine inconvenience to the ruling elite are potentially unstable and every election is a tinderbox that can send the country to chaos. Think of Ethiopia.

There is a lazy assumption that benevolent dictators are the way for Africa, but I can assure you that every dictator starts off with some benevolence before becoming garden variety tyrant who jails and kills opponents and suppresses every single right. That is why, I am keen never to overpraise Sankara or Lumumba, had they hand on to power for at least ten years, they probably would have turned into monsters. There have been fewer exceptions. 

Anybody who wants to cling to power after 10 years is a dangerous human being. Part of being a mature nation is the ability to believe in the skills and talents of other people to lead. Most dictators, like Moi are so disdainful. He once gathered senior members of KANU in a stadium and said in broad daylight that none was qualified, before picking Uhuru Kenyatta, then a rookie politician with a CV so thin, it was transparent. It was in line with building a dynasty. Ten years later, at least with more meaningful experience Uhuru Kenyatta did become the president of Kenya and how competent or incompetent he has been is up to you to judge.

Bottom line, as we reflect on Mugabe’s death, as we heap praises on him, let us remember he is part of the African elite who have pillaged and plunged the continent into endless darkness. It is a curse that we have grappled with for more than 1,000 years. In the past, kings and chiefs sold their kinsmen as slaves in exchange for nothing. Literally. From West to the East coast the chiefs and kings were trashy. Modern leaders have not been better despite their education, exposure. They have ruined the continent, stealing and stashing money in off-shore accounts that benefit the rich countries more as they impoverish the country.

The upshot is young men dying in the Mediterranean as they go to look for opportunities in Europe. It is young men turning to terrorism. It is people dying of hunger and famine. It is civil wars that kill millions.

It always strikes me that some of the most educated Africans are the trashiest. Instead of empowering them, education brainwashes them to a point they never trust anything in their country. When sick, they fly to Europe, America or Asia. For holidays, despite Africa having some of the best physical features, they would rather go and spend time in a mall or walking on sand in Dubai. For shopping, anything from Europe or America is superior.

The downside of this that when this educated African gets to power, rather than dedicate his or her time to develop even a decent hospital in the country, he will steal even money meant for the disabled, and when he eventually catches cancer, he will be flown abroad where he or she dies.

Mugabe was the epitome of this malaise. In a continent of immense potential, every day our leaders hawk the continent, knowing their investment are out there, should anything happen, they can retreat to an apartment they own in France and live their quietly.

That is the worst form of self-hatred. Young Africans should learn to do better in the future.

 

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