Robert Gabriel Mugabe (1924-2019), the deceased Zimbabwean president, was arguably a better agitator than an administrator. In his desperate search for Zimbabwean independence from the colonial masters, he gave all he had in terms of strategy and commitment to the guerrilla warfare which eventually brought independence to the beleaguered and politically traumatised country.
But no sooner had independence been secured than he was revealed for whom he truly was. To be sure, Mugabe initially did quite well for Zimbabwe, raising literacy levels across the country and returning land to the local population after years of unconscionable expropriation. But invariably for the Zimbabweans, the taste of freedom didn’t endure, partly because of very poor planning.
The return of land to the local population didn’t suffice as an instrument of economic emancipation, as many lacked the skills and expertise required to develop the agricultural sector. Inflation rose serially and plunged the economy into the abyss. Today, the Zimbabwean currency fares very poorly.
Politically, Mugabe destroyed the democratic structures which he helped to build and he was actually to morph into a dictator of the fascist kind, supervising a steady and comprehensive process of silencing critical views. He even nursed the ambition to be replaced by his wife, Grace Mugabe, an ambition that was checkmated by the military which eventually booted him out of office in ignominious circumstances.
In Africa, freedom fighters rarely make reasonable and respectable statesmen. With the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, they easily become victims of ruptured psyches and oversized egos, compromising state institutions in order to perpetuate themselves in office.
Africa, therefore, does badly with democracy as a system of government. With all his impeccable resume for a leadership position anywhere in the world, Mugabe ended up in palpable derision, eventually dying in exile after failing to develop the country’s health sector for decades. His faults were many. He did not only overstay his welcome; he left his country a beleaguered state that didn’t have any befitting hospital that could take care of him even though he was stupendously wealthy.
It is certainly a shame that these African leaders regularly betray an objectionable lack of vision for their respective countries, content with stashing enough money away for themselves and their families. Reports of his funeral ceremony tell of the more heroic burial that he could have had if he had done well. Mugabe left behind a country on its knees, in misery and poverty. Some African statesmen attended the funeral ceremony only to fulfill all righteousness.
It is certain that many of Mugabe’s people will not remember him as a liberator but as a tyrant who mismanaged the economy. His mortal remains were returned from Singapore where he died to a country that is still struggling with hyperinflation and food and fuel shortages caused by decades of economic mismanagement. This is not the ideal way to go for an African leader who fought for the liberation of his country from the shackles of colonialism. It is sad that the legacy left behind by Mugabe isn’t that of a hero, but that of a tyrant who mismanaged his country’s resources and became a victim of his own limitations despite the providential gift of longevity.
If African leaders do not learn from Mugabe’s sad odyssey, from what can they ever learn?