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by Morak Babajide-Alabi
Two Fridays ago, the final curtains closed in on the former strongman of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. We woke up to the news of his passing away at a Singaporean hospital, thousands of miles away from Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. There is no pretence that his death was a shock or unexpected. It was no secret to the world that Mugabe was ill for some months, which, in the first instance necessitated his journey to Singapore. This aside, he was a man five years short of a century in age.
As no one expected him to live on forever, even if in recent past, after his overthrow from office, he had tried to portray this image of a strong man. His attempt at reinventing himself as a power broker just before the 2018 general elections in Zimbabwe was a joke in motion. He tried extremely indeed to convince us he had control of his reasoning faculty. He made a show requesting his supporters not to vote for his successor, Emerson Mnangagwa. It was, however, obvious that he was losing the fight as he picked through his words and mumbled incoherently many times.
Sadly, Mugabe died outside the country he claimed to love dearly. He could not live his final days and nights in any of the numerous hospitals that run without drugs, doctors, nurses or essential infrastructures. He turned his back on the various hospitals that his actions or inactions in the past turned into nothing but final resting places for the poverty-stricken people. His family and the government thought he deserved more than what is available in his beloved country.
To be honest, there is not much to write about Mugabe that has not been written in the recent past. Trying to write an obituary of him will be like repeating oneself, which will remain a grave disservice to the readers. However, allow me to add here that Mugabe had the choice of becoming a hero that the world would celebrate in life and in death. His choice of yesterday was what defined his today and obviously what history will celebrate him for tomorrow.
I know many people will argue he is no longer here and does not matter what happens now. But the fact is that Mugabe had the opportunity to write himself to the pleasant part of the history book, but unfortunately he could not see into the future. If Mugabe had played his card well, he would have been on the same or nearly same level of the legend South African Nelson Mandela.
Mugabe frittered away the goodwill of his people. In life, he was a man of contradictions and in death, there have been a few controversies surrounding him. The Zimbabwe government and the family could not agree on where to bury the dictator. Below is my opinion about Mugabe on November 19, 2017, after he was eased out of office. I had written in a piece titled “Freedom from Mugabe, Power To the”Crocodile ” as follows:
“Life can indeed play games on human beings. For Mugabe, at this time, it is a cruel game. He was blinded to the fact that he had dealt the citizens harsh hands for too long. He did not for a moment gives the thought that the people were dancing along with him out of compulsion and not love.
“Mugabe was a leader that lost it along the way. He was a man destined for a good place in African history where generations of Zimbabweans would have studied and celebrate his nationalism for long. This is not all lost, though, as he would still be remembered as the poster boy of the independence of his dear country. It would be written of him that he sacrificed his life for his people to be free from the oppressive colonial government.
“He became the darling of all freedom fighters in the world. We still remember the song “Zimbabwe” by the late Bob Marley and his performance at the independence ceremony in Harare in 1980. The legendary Sonny Okosun also sang songs of freedom in Zimbabwe, which was then a beacon of hope for other countries, especially South Africa, which was in the grip of apartheid.”
At the height of his power, Mugabe was the talk of the world. He was infamously popular in the West and despised (and feared) by world leaders. He became a monster and a dangerous species, even to his citizens. The intelligent ones took to their heels and sought asylum and became refugees in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Mugabe was crazy and dared the world to seek to stop him. They could not halt the strong man as he enjoyed a free reign of terror on his people.
The prosperous white Zimbabwean farmers reminded Mugabe of the wickedness of apartheid, and he felt he should take an act of revenge on them. He enacted the law that allowed taking over the lands of the white farmers while they were redistributed to “poor” black people. This extraordinary action, observers believe, heralded the beginning of the end of Mugabe. He incurred the anger of the West, and the resultant effect of the economic sanctions imposed on his regime is yet to be recovered from till date.
Mugabe had turned the former South Rhodesia country on its head, as everything commenced a descent. He was less concerned about the poverty that followed. The currency was not worth anything more than the toilet paper. But Mugabe and his cronies cared less. They were more concerned with holding on to power by suppressing the human rights of Zimbabweans. Mugabe dug in deeper and with the support of individuals, like Mnangagwa, he became untouchable. He empowered the soldiers to suppress any uprising against his government. This gave them the licence to carry out extrajudicial killings and imprisonment of opposition leaders, effected by his faithful lieutenants.
Ironically, the set of cronies that nurtured him in power for such a long time eased him off when they think he no longer served their purpose. What happened in 2017 is history.
The death of Mugabe should serve as a lesson to all African leaders. It is the fact that we are human, and we will live for a period and not forever. What would one say represents Mugabe’s legacy in a country he sacrificed his youth for? Like many African leaders that claim supreme love for their countries, Mugabe could not provide a worthy hospital in Zimbabwe to manage his illness. Just like his African counterparts, he had to be flown abroad where the leaders were (are) sensible to realise that good healthcare remains a fundamental right of the people.
This is the irony of life and a lesson to other African leaders that have the opportunity to establish lasting legacies while still in power. Mugabe was not the first African leader to die outside the shores of their countries. Regrettably, not many African leaders have visions of building world-class health care for their countries. Instead, they prefer going abroad to take care of themselves and leave the citizens to walk out their salvation at home.
The sad aspect of this is these leaders go abroad at the taxpayers’ expenses. You ponder on what goes on in the minds of these leaders when they lie on their sickbeds in foreign lands while being attended to by well-paid doctors and nurses. You wonder what runs through the minds of these Africa leaders when they are treated in well-equipped hospitals that are accessible to all the citizens of the countries where they are established.
It sometimes shows the wickedness of these leaders and reflects on their thoughtless attitudes. They come across on the soapboxes as leaders with the love of their people at heart, whereas the opposite is the case.
You cannot love people you care less about. No way.
As written for the Diaspora Matters column, Sunday Vanguard, September 15, 2019.