If the late Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley and Mr Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, the third world’s first mega star, could, they would be turning in their graves over what Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has become in the twilight of his years.
The two Jamaicans played a not insignificant role in the emergence of black majority rule in Zimbabwe, the former white-ruled Rhodesia: Mr Manley in the negotiations to oust Mr Ian Smith’s government and Mr Marley in providing musical inspiration, including a memorable appearance at Zimbabwe’s Independence ceremony.
As Mr Marley sang, Africans liberated Zimbabwe from the vicious rule of Mr Smith’s regime. At the top echelons of that liberation struggle was Mr Robert Mugabe, today the oldest leader at 93 years old.
As an inspirational liberation fighter in 1964, Mr Mugabe was arrested for “subversive speech” and imprisoned for ten years after which he was freed. He, with Mr Joshua Nkomo, jointly led the bitter and bloody civil war against Mr Ian Smith at the head of the Patriotic Front (PF) of Zimbabwe.
With the guerilla warfare taking its toll from bases in neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique and Angola, the Ian Smith regime agreed to independence talks in London in 1979. Mr Manley participated in those talks supervised by Britain. That led to new elections in 1980 out of which Mr Mugabe became prime minister at the head of the now ZANU-PF party.
Mr Mugabe became the hero of his people and the toast of the world. He silenced the doubters by taking a largely pragmatic course akin to the posture later assumed by South Africa’s Mr Nelson Mandela, in which all races would have a part in the future of the new Zimbabwe.
He formed a coalition Government between his ZANU-PF (which drew its support from the majority Shona people), and Nkomo’s ZAPU (which drew its support from the minority Ndebele people), and he stuck by the new constitution’s guarantees of substantial parliamentary representation for whites.
At the same time, Mugabe took steps to improve the lot of black Zimbabweans through increased wages, improved social services, and food subsidies. But trouble started to set in 1982 when Mr Nkomo was allegedly ousted from the coalition cabinet, and ethnic strife between their two tribes intensified.
Importantly, Zimbabwe’s economy steadily declined under Mr Mugabe’s Administration, with whites emigrating in substantial numbers, spurred by the forced takeover of many white-owned farms that caused a major fall-off in agricultural output and severe food shortages worsened by droughts.
Mr Mugabe’s popularity further declined at home and abroad as his Government became increasingly repressive, curtailing freedom of the press and harassing Opposition forces led by the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai.
The economy continued to decline, and in 2007 the country had the highest rate of inflation in the world, as well as one of the highest rates of unemployment.
Politically, Mugabe lost even staunch supporters when he tried to set up his wife, Grace, to succeed him.
The November 15 military effort that has curtailed his authority was inevitable.
Officially a villain, Mr Mugabe has lost the mantle of glorious hero. What a great pity.