By Morak Babajide-Alabi
My heart goes out, at this time in history, to the people of Zimbabwe who are as confused, as a nation, as one can get it. As the world looks on in anticipation of a peaceful resolution of the current impasse in the country, the citizens go on their knees praying for a miracle to happen.
They had woken up last week to the sounds of soldiers’ marching boots and a parade of artillery on the streets. Although confused at what this might mean, the majority of them took to the streets in jubilations and excitement, that “the” change might have finally come. They had, like observers outside the country, mistaken the parade of tanks on the streets for a military coup and the end of the authoritarian rule of 93-year old Robert Mugabe.
You would not blame them, though. They have endured for long. Some of them had lived with the image of President Mugabe all their lives and seen his two sides – the good and the bad. They had seen the revolutionary Robert who fought alongside Joshua Nkomo, to liberate a beloved Southern Rhodesia country from the colonialists.
Ironically, they had also lived with the man who got intoxicated with the wine of power and threw all cautions to the wind. They had sadly seen a Mugabe shifted base from being a leader who fought on democratic ideas to one who thinks the “leadership” of the country is his birthright.
Presently, the people are in a difficult situation as the fate of their country is as hazy as the early morning harmattan cloud. They are at crossroads because events unfolding are contradictory to what they had initially thought.
While the army has assured the world that there has not been any coup or leadership takeover (the citizens wish it was), they have not been able to progress beyond keeping Mugabe under “house arrest”, with permission to attend a graduation ceremony on Friday. This had given the impression that the old man still has some reserved energy to stave off even the soldiers.
Pictures of Mugabe and General Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the military shaking hands were published on Thursday. It took just a few minutes to go viral worldwide. Observers are still trying to write a “story” around the release of the pictures. There are yet unconfirmed speculations that the Army generals are in talks with Mugabe to “persuade” him to step down. Whatever it is they are trying to work out with him seems to be taking forever, indicating unwillingness of Mugabe to abdicate.
At this time the citizens of this impoverished country are between the devil and the deep blue sea. All over the world, military rules are old-fashioned, Zimbabweans seem to think this is what they need right now to bring back sanity. They have been in the same spot with an individual who was bereft of ideas and thinks the only way out is hand over in continuity to his beloved wife.
We all know the genesis of the impasse. I have heard this said many times and it has stuck in my brain – nothing happens for no reason. No matter how skilful an African politician may be, at the critical moment, he/she will shoot him/herself in the leg, by putting the wrong foot forward.
For Mugabe, the wrong foot forward was his wife – Grace. Zimbabweans are not pretending they are unaware that it was Grace that has been directing the affairs of the country for many years. They knew all along that the welfare packages, the currency rates, the sacking and hiring of civil servants, budget allocations and all that matters to their daily living were settled on the Mugabes matrimonial bed.
The sacked Vice President, Emerson Mnangagwa, had been part of this deal right from the beginning. He knew the running of the affairs of the state was under Grace’s control and he had danced to her tunes over the years.
The man nicknamed “The Crocodile” for his own kind of brutal politics knew he was dining with the devil. He, however, underestimated the power of “love” over friendship. He, at the height of his desire to be the successor to the “grandmaster”, failed to realise that a man of Mugabe’s age needs more than friendship to stay alive.
His fate was probably decided on a cold night while the President and the First Lady cosied up to each other under the duvet cover. The sack might just have been a “condition” for access to the cookie jar.
This is why not many people in Zimbabwe are taking “The Crocodile’s” tears for its worth. Instead, these citizens want real change. They believe they deserve more than Grace or Mnangagwa. They need a Mugabe from the past, a fresh blood that has the love of the country at heart. They need a leader that will turn their fortunes around. What they do not need is a man that has always been part of the system.
Unfortunately, the opposition also is in disarray. They have been weakened over the years and are not able to present a combined front in this struggle. As at press time, the former Prime Minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has flown back to the country. It is definitely a no-no for him to think he can play a prominent role in the next dispensation. The country needs more than he can give at this time, going by the state of his health.
On Friday, it is being speculated that a transition government is likely to be put in place to run for the next five years. This may not be ideal, but it will see Mugabe off and also block the chances of him handing over to Grace. I, however, disagree with making Mnangagwa the head of the team. The thought, therefore, will be he had used the military to seize the reins of power. Doing this will shortchange Grace (as a citizen with rights to contest), the opposition, others who might be interested in contesting and for people of Zimbabwe at large.
By the way, as you might have guessed, the title of the piece is an adaptation of a political autobiography of one of the great Africans in history, Kenneth Kaunda. The book “Zambia Shall Be Free” chronicled the life and times of Kaunda in the struggle for the independence of the East African country.
This was one of the texts I studied for my English Literature high school examination in 1980. The book whipped up a lot of revolutionary ideas in us as teenagers then, as we studied it in class. It also brought into our consciousness the rising stars of Africa, such as Mugabe who had just led his country to independence and sworn in as the President in April before my exams.
I took interest in Mugabe. He was a fist clenching, air punching, fire-spitting revolutionary that promised so much. Every time I read Kaunda’s story I visualised a great leader in Mugabe. I saw a leader that would surpass Kaunda and the likes. But he flunked the opportunities.
Old age? I won’t say that! Love? Grace or Zimbabwe? I leave that to your imagination.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of November 19, 2017.