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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
a Robert Mugabe victory would be good for Zimbabwe
The Guardian (UK)
August 02, 2013
View this article
on The Guardian (UK) website
Robert Mugabe belongs
to a dying breed of politicians on the African continent. Molded
in the crucible of politics of nationalism, he emerges as the surviving
face of African nationalism radicalised through armed resistance
to settler colonialism. It is this dimension of his generational
politics, this trait of his character, which Britain and the western
world has not been able to comprehend.
Mugabe is more than just
a politician, he leads a cause, or as his militant supporters would
say, he has become the cause itself. And the cause has something
to do with giving back the African his dignity well beyond symbols
of nominal independence. A few days ago he told his supporters political
independence was inadequate if it did not yield economic freedom.
While it is fashionable to charge Mugabe with destroying Zimbabwe
in its prime, little regard is given to the fact that the average
African country has been granted nominal political independence
amid economic subservience. And as the convulsions in northern Africa
and even Brazil show, the flag does not always fly away.
What continues to confound
Mugabe's western opponents and there are many in the west who want
to see the back of him is that his brand of post-colonial politics
is steeped in the economic self-empowerment of the Zimbabweans,
which resonates with the continent. More than many other African
leaders, Mugabe draws cheers across the continent.
In western lore he has
been a terrorist, a Marxist ideologue, now a bloodthirsty tyrant,
stereotypes that he alone on the continent has been able to mock
and laugh off. "If standing for my people's aspirations makes
me a Hitler," he once said, "let me be a Hitler a thousand
With seven earned degrees
spanning disciplines, he is not your archetypal tin pot dictator.
"The trouble with Mugabe," the former British foreign
secretary Douglas Hurd once said, is that "he thinks like us".
And knows us, one could have added.
From Margaret Thatcher's
grudging acknowledgement to Tony Blair's open hostility, the British
establishment has had to contend with an assertive Mugabe, ironically
himself an epitome of British success. Educated by the Jesuits in
the British settler colony of Rhodesia, he is what the late Nigerian
writer Chinua Achebe would have called an educated "British-protected
person". And like Caliban in The Tempest, his profit from this
British education is that he knows the British language well enough
and uses it to curse them. "It is those demons at No 10 Downing
Street that need exorcising," Mugabe once castigated Blair,
yet still escaping the fate that visited Patrice Lumumba, the elected
leader of the DRC assassinated in a US-sponsored plot, for a milder
chastisement of the Belgian king in 1960.
The land issue, a question
which only history is still to settle. Despoiled of its land through
a series of racial colonial measures, Zimbabwe at independence inherited
a gross skew in land ownership. A small, reclusive white settler
population of 4,000 owned nearly half of arable Zimbabwe –
the best half at that – with the other half, packing over
10 million black Zimbabweans. History had fated Zimbabwe to a racial
conflict, preordained a racially polarising fight for Mugabe. And
to make matters worse, land was the casus belli of the 15-year bush
war which Mugabe led, and had dominated decolonisation talks at
Lancaster House on the last quarter of 1979. That gave this issue
a surfeit of emotion, in equal measure across the racial divide.
to tackle this matter conclusively, and defiantly after the Blair
government reneged on promises to fund land redistribution made
under the Lancaster House agreement.
was more than a decade of a damaging standoff with the former colonial
master, Britain. More damaging to Zimbabwe, the underdog. And here
history gets split in its verdict: was Mugabe reckless and selfish,
or did he lead his people through yet another revolution? The western
world thinks he did it to spite competent white farmers who owned
the land by a colonial right that persisted into independence; that
he led a wholesale expropriation of "white-owned" land
to win votes against the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, a
new, labour-led party which posed a real threat to his rule. And
the consequences have been there for all to see: an economic meltdown;
a descent from breadbasket to a basket case; a rollback in civil
liberties. The list of charges against him is endless.
I have seen
Mugabe fight for his political life before, in the controversial
2008 elections. Then his back was against the wall.
The economy had spun
out of control, threatening to sweep him under politically. Sanctions
which the western world had unleashed on Zimbabwe, ostensibly for
imperiling human rights, many say as punishment for taking back
the land, were biting his people as never before. The adversities
were overwhelming. Yet he hung on, just. It is this ability to ride
the storm, which attracted me to make the film Mugabe: Villain or
Hero?, where I spent three years in Zimbabwe gaining rare access
to the Zimbabwean leader.
is back in the election trenches in a radically different political
environment. Blair, Gordon Brown and George W Bush, his foremost
opponents are gone.
More dramatically, the
MDC, Mugabe's supposed bete noire, is on course to a crushing defeat
in the latest election. Morgan Tsvangirai's claims of vote rigging
will fall on deaf ears, even if David Cameron and Barack Obama stick
their noses in. The official observers passed the election off as
free, fair and credible. The Zimbabwean people will inevitably accept
Will Cameron and Obama
have the appetite for a further fight with Mugabe, when they know
that Tsvangirai is a flawed candidate?
Mugabe and his Zanu-PF
are on a surge, seemingly unstoppable towards a second coming. And
tellingly, the election is being fought on the theme of "indigenisation
and economic empowerment" by which Mugabe, following up on
his land reforms, now seeks a 51% stake in the economy for his people.
That this is another racially polarising policy is without doubt.
But the amazing thing is that it is a policy which seems to give
Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party a marked edge over the MDC with its
neo-liberal agenda of foreign-investment-led job-creation.
Even more surprising
is that the youth – history's motive force in north Africa
and around the world – are finding favour with Mugabe's fiery
rhetoric, already founded in the land reform programme whose benefits
are beginning to show. Mugabe, the man reviled in the west, may
very well have infected a successor generation in ways African politics
and politicians – present and future – may find hard
to ignore, let alone cure. At 89, the infirmities of time may very
well make this election his last stand against the west. The issue
may boil down to what after him. But for now, all indications point
to his bagging the latest poll.
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