As distraught Zimbabweans suffered the misfortune of viewing the political funeral of Robert Mugabe in slow motion in Harare in the past few days, older compatriots must have been haunted by the ghost of his iconic and far more illustrious namesake – Bob (Robert) Marley.
It was in the same Harare (then Salisbury) that the Raggae immortal stood in 1980 as a star guest at Mugabe’s inauguration as first leader of independent Zimbabwe and, amid the stirring percussion of guitar, horn and cymbal, rendered a freshly composed number with eponymous title to a deliriously ecstatic crowd and extravagantly expectant nation.
“Every man has got his right to decide own destiny,” he begins “And in his judgement, there’s no partiality…”
Alas, thirty-seven years later, Marley would have wept at the sorry sight Zimbabwe had become and the epic betrayal of the promise of 1980.
Moments after his party ZANU-PF formally disowned him on Sunday and served 24-hour impeachment notice having declared his psychedelic wife persona non grata, Mugabe appeared in a televised national broadcast flanked by the cartel of avenging generals.
Looking spent but defiant, the old fox from Kutama continued to cling tenaciously onto the presidential stool, even as political vultures circled overhead.
Meanwhile, the Harare streets were throbbing with placard-bearing citizens marching in solidarity with the military intervention of last Wednesday.
But in what must have filled the uniformed enforcers surrounding him with amusement, Mugabe ended his rambling speech by taking liberty to announce official itinerary stretching to next month. The dinosaur was seeking to preserve the sitting order in a sunk Titanic.
With that, it became evident that Mugabe, like all deluded tyrants in history, had completely lost touch with reality. He seemed incapable of realizing that the game was up; that his captors were now directly scripting the power-play pre-determined to completely strip him bare, beginning with his defenestration at ZANU-PF’s emergency caucus.
Overall, the Mugabe tragedy is yet another reminder of the often limited shelf-life of political heroism in Africa and should renew the old debate about the propriety or otherwise of allowing the blood-tainted hands that liberate to also rule. (The reason why Charles Taylor, who led a bloody rebellion in Liberia against despotic Samuel Doe in the 80s, ended up in 2006 worse than the former Sergeant.)
We hear the message subliminally in another line in that same song by Marley: “Soon we’ll find out who is real revolutionary. I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenary...”
Obviously, Mugabe stayed too long in power for his own tragic flaws not to be exposed. Perhaps, on account of his lead role in an atrocious guerrilla war, he was psychologically ill-equipped to administer a post-war nation requiring true reconciliation and exemplary statesmanship.
In retrospect, what could be termed the only great moments in Zimbabwe were in the first decade of independence. It witnessed the quantum leap in literacy ratio. Its status as the food basket of the Southern African sub-region was consolidated, making it one of the most prosperous countries with enviable GDP.
Instructively, these great advances happened when the governance template was relatively inclusive.
Soon, Mugabe forgot another profound line in Marley’s evocative Zimbabwe: “Divide and rule will only tear us apart…”
Only that would explain the maniacal venom he went about the land reforms, invariably perpetrating on industrial scale the racism he and fellow guerrilla fighters had accused Ian Smith of decades earlier.
After Smith’s unilateral declaration of the independence of Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was originally called) in 1965, his white minority clan sought to perpetuate the control of more than 70 percent of Zimbabwe’ land in the hands of a white caste accounting for less than one percent of the population.
While such arrangement was obviously unsustainable and provocative, Mugabe’s abrasive handling of the historically emotive issue worsened things. The country would probably have been better for it had he imbibed even a quarter of Nelson Mandela’s political dexterity and conciliatory spirit that helped minimize racial tension and eruption in the early years of post-Apartheid South Africa.
Even during the relatively “stable” 80s, he nevertheless had zero tolerance for dissent. Sustained brutal crackdown on political opposition that decade left thousands dead, aided and abetted by compromised leadership of the armed forces.
So, at the approach of the new millennium in 2000, it was clear the Zimbabwean strongman had run out of fresh ideas to govern. As the asphyxiating effects of economic blockade imposed by western countries kicked in, Mugabe, like the trickster Marley muses about, easily resorted to the bogey of “land reforms” to rally the dominant black population behind him and his party.
But the big tragedy was that the black provincials who inherited the big farms from the white lords soon discover they lacked the expertise to manage such enterprise, thus doubling Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
Of course, Gucci Grace or disGrace (as Mugabe’s erstwhile-secretary-turned-wife is contemptuously called) was the temptress. She had sneaked into power through the back door first as Mugabe’s mistress as his much beloved first wife lay terminally ill.
In the second half of Mugabe’s reign, she acted Shakespeare’s darkly calculating Lady Macbeth and the vain Imelda Marco of 20th century the Philippines rolled into one.
It is a reflection of her cantankerous nature that diplomatic immunity had to be invoked twice for her to escape trial for criminal charges on foreign soil, the latest being alleged physical assault on her son’s girlfriend in a South African hotel suite.
At home, it is a measure of the life of debauchery she seduced old Mugabe into that, just last month, she also got embroiled in a litigation involving a $1.3m wedding anniversary ring. The Lebanese she paid the fortune to supply a 100-carat diamond band, as the story goes, attempted to swindle her by supplying a counterfeit worth not more than $30,000. What was meant to be a secret deal eventually exploded in court with the First Lady unashamed to own up to coveting such prohibitive vanity at a time most Zimbabweans are unsure of their next meal.
In 2014, she considered then lady Vice President a threat. She bad-mouthed her publicly. Soon, her husband granted her desire by booting Mujuri out of office. When Mugabe later sacked Mnangagwa as Vice President a fortnight ago, only a few were left in doubt that the last hurdle had been cleared on Grace’s path to succeeding her nonagenarian hubby as president.
But hitherto power-hungry Grace has not been sighted since the armoured tanks cordoned off the presidential palace last week.
Bob Marley must be turning in revulsion in his Kingston grave this moment.