By Reuben Abati
Since August, I have been the anchorperson of a programme on television called ThisDay Live where we discuss political matters – local and global. The programme is available on Arise News TV at 6pm, 9pm and sometimes at midnight every Sunday. Two days ago, we discussed the situation in Zimbabwe, the elections in Anambra, Nigeria’s decision to hire Malaysian experts at a cost of N485 million to figure out new pathways for Nigeria’s economic growth (with all the experts in Nigeria oh!), the proposed expansion of President Buhari’s cabinet, the burial of 26 teenage Nigerians by the Italian authorities without Nigeria showing up, the sale of Nigerians and other Africans into slavery in Libya… But our top story was Zimbabwe and the travails of a once-upon-a-time Comrade Robert Mugabe. We started the programme by joining the Arise News studio in London where our colleague Tham who has been on the Zimbabwean story provided all the updates.
He had said that he thought that the Lagos studio was a little behind on the story, because at that point, there were clear indications that Robert Mugabe had been persuaded to resign and he thought that would happen in a matter of hours, because television cameras were already being set up and Mugabe, having been expelled from the ruling party, along with his Lady Macbeth wife- the Gucci Grace, was bound to throw in the towel. I engaged Tham and my last question to him was: Is it certain that Mugabe would resign, or he would have to be impeached? I paraphrase of course. But Tham was sure, he was certain that the matter would not require impeachment proceedings, and that Mugabe was sure to resign and allow Zimbabwe to move ahead. His optimism was misplaced, and I do not blame Tham for his optimism. We all have been very optimistic that the drama of Zimbabwe had reached a certain end, but the reality is that the coup plotters of Zimbabwe are proving to be the nicest coup plotters ever in the history of that enterprise.
The more we hear about Zimbabwe, the more it appears that the military and the ZANU-PF hierarchy who want Robert Mugabe out of the way, are not really sure of what means to employ to achieve their objective. This must be the most uncertain, the most diffident bid for power ever, and it is a clear illustration of the extent of Robert Mugabe’s hold on power in that unfortunate country. Majority of the people who want Mugabe out of power may not like his wife, the typist turned mistress, turned wife, turned Lady Macbeth, turned power-seeker, but they remember Mugabe’s role in the history of their nation – he fought for independence, he defied the colonialists and the imperialists, but he then became a despot, muzzling the opposition, killing off any form of dissent, the once revered revolutionary soon became a woman-wrapper, and in his later years, a parody of his old self. Those who want him out of power are his own associates, members of a party he co-founded, not the opposition, and so they treat their elderly comrade with too much love. These coup-plotters are therefore behaving as if they are afraid to hurt Mugabe. He is so ensconced in their psyche, they would rather not hurt him, because he is so central to their collective reckoning and history.
The Zimbabwe military has been treading so carefully it does not even want to use the word “coup”. I believe that this is not necessarily out of the fear of international backlash – the international community would be glad to see Mugabe fall- all the issued statements are at best symbolic diplomatese. Mugabe is the oldest President in the world and a signal nuisance with his off-key speeches, falling spells, despotism and soporific appearances on the global stage. At 93, he has nothing to offer anymore, but the man has since declared that he is determined to remain in office till the age of 100, or interpretively, die in office. A coup against such a man would attract the usual scripted responses but the global feeling would be one of actual relief. Leaders like Mugabe sometimes put international consensus to threat. Anyhow, the characters in charge of the current situation in Zimbabwe not only put Mugabe under house arrest, they have since then been going to him to pay homage. Two days after the military announced their intervention, the leaders went to visit Mugabe at home. He later showed up at a convocation ceremony, where he showed absolutely no signs of distress. One of the graduands was in fact the wife of the Zimbabwe Chief of Defence Forces! When Mugabe addressed the nation on Sunday, he was serenaded by the same people who want him out of the way, with one of them even helping him to turn the pages of an incoherent speech.
The so-called change-agents of Zimbabwe are actually not change agents at all. What is going on in Zimbabwe is not a revolution; it is a re-arrangement of the power nexus within the ruling party. This is all at the end of the day about Grace Mugabe. The liberation veterans within the ruling party, who are aligned with the ousted former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa resent the rise to influence and power and the threat of further rise of Robert Mugabe’s wife, the 52-year old Grace Mugabe. They needed to stop the flow of her opportunism: her plan to capture the leader and capture the country with nothing more than female power. I agree that it is important and expedient to stop Grace Mugabe from turning an entire country into what is currently known in Nigeria as “the other room”. Having achieved that objective, and Robert Mugabe having reassured them, and they assuming that by taking leadership of the party from Mugabe and bringing back Mnangagwa, that the revolution has been saved, the elders of the events of the last week in Zimbabwe may end up advertising their own naivety.
The rigmarole, indeed the entertainment, has gone on for too long. The speech given by Robert Mugabe Sunday night showed that Mugabe is defiant. He is unwilling to resign or step down. He understands that the Sixth schedule of the Constitution creates its own special roadblocks if a “supposedly elected” President must be removed from office. If care is not taken, Robert Mugabe will outsmart those who want him out of power and we could have a tragic situation in that country. The old man of Zimbabwe politics is still trying to take charge, postponing the evil day and even after his removal from the leadership of the party, he wants to preside over the next meeting of the ZANU-PF. Here is Mugabe behaving like that proverbial, aged uncle in the village who keeps defying death. Each time he falls ill and the children and grandchildren begin to prepare for his funeral, he would suddenly wake up again, sometimes after his death has been announced and funeral arrangements have been made. The family got trapped in the endless funeral arrangements, until someone came up with the idea that the Oracle should be consulted to find out the mystery of the old man’s repeated Lazarus-like existence. The Oracle’s striking revelation was that the old man had a charm, a ring on the big toe of his left leg, and until and except that ring is removed, the man may never die. What the change-seekers of Zimbabwe should do is to remove that ring around Mugabe’s thumb toe on the left leg.
It is none other than the respect and sympathy that the authors of the recent process still have for Mugabe. Left to the ZANU-PF leadership and the military, they’d rather have Mugabe die in office. What they cannot stand is the impunity of his overreaching wife, the Jezebel called Grace Mugabe. The turning point came when Grace turned her gaze on the liberation veterans and began to eliminate them starting with former VP Emmerson. The liberation wing of the ZANU-PF could no longer tolerate the rise of Grace Mugabe’s G-40 and their bid for power. Grace Mugabe is Robert Mugabe’s nemesis. She is the Delilah to his Samson. When Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari told an international audience that his wife belongs to the sitting room, the kitchen and the other room, we all accused him of misogyny, but in far away Zimbabwe, Mugabe is making Buhari look like a man of wisdom. Not a few world leaders have been destroyed by their wives: Lucy Kibaki, the wife of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was so powerful, her husband openly deferred to her in public. In Africa’s patriarchal system, a President’s wife behaving like she has her husband on a leash, is bound to ignite crisis. Grace Mugabe is said to be in a fit of hysteria. Forty-one years younger than the husband she married by stabbing another husband in the back, Grace Mugabe will never be forgotten as a case study for the anatomy of female power.
On his own, Mugabe, going through a process of anagnorisis and devastating catharsis, wants to hold on to power by all means. Sit-tight African leaders and despots never want to leave. Idi Amin of Uganda didn’t want to go. Yahya Jammeh, the most recent example, tried every possible trick to prolong his stay in office. In Egypt, it took a people’s revolution to push Hosni Mubarak out. Mugabe is going through the same course of defiance. He needs to be reminded that the people are the real Oracle of democracy. The game is up. The genie is out of the bottle. In 37 years, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who have majorly not known any leader other than the old man, have never gone out in protest to reject him, not even when he brutalized the opposition, not even when he killed hundreds of thousands of Ndebeles, but now the people have found their voice. They are defying Mugabe. They want him out. He has thus lost legitimacy and influence. His mystique is gone. His power is vanishing. Without power, a man of power is nothing but a shell. Mugabe has reportedly rejected every option that he has been given: resignation, a life in exile, or retirement within the country, with full immunity. He is not sure. He is trying to buy time. The truth is Mugabe has been caged. He is afraid of tomorrow. He is scared. It is good to see the hunter in the role of the hunted. He does not deserve our pity.
Hopefully, other sit-tight African leaders who imagine themselves to be monarchs rather than leaders would learn from the travails of former Comrade Robert Mugabe. In Togo, Equitorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Cameroon, and elsewhere in Africa, sitting Presidents are behaving like monarchs. The rings on their toes would also have to be removed by the people, in order to fully consolidate the democratic dispensation in Africa.
The international community must not allow Zimbabwe to continue to drift. The uncertainty that lingers in that country, if allowed to continue, could result in greater chaos and instability. The Military and the ZANU-PF have done apparently their best so far to push Robert Mugabe, but the man has refused to jump. The international community has the wherewithal to make him jump. It must be made clear to him in no uncertain terms that the game is up. It is over. The Zimbabwe parliament should be encouraged to impeach Robert Mugabe. Fears of a possible deluge in a Zimbabwe without Mugabe may be overstretched. Things are bad enough as they are in that country, with inflation at 50%, a comatose economy and widespread hardship. Mugabe’s exit should guarantee only one outcome: an opportunity to rebuild a battered country and a traumatized citizenry. That real change may not come from a compromised ZANU-PF and so-called rent-collecting liberation veterans, but from a new beginning in which Zimbabwe frees itself from the Banquo’s ghost of Mugabe’s misrule and an entitlement class parading itself as revolutionaries.