Finally, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is out of power. The strongman is grief-striken. The bravado is over. In the twilight of his life, he has been disgraced out of office.
He started well as a revolutionary; a freedom fighter with a difference and a popular nationalist. But, the former president of Zimbabwe did not finish the race well. His rule ended on a sad note. Although military coup is no longer in vogue in Africa, the intervention by soldiers, according to commentators, was understandable.
The coup was even denied by the mutineers. They were in want of a decorative interpretation of their putsch. Yet, there was no widespread uproar. The continent was not enveloped in anxiety. Even, Mugabe’s unrepentant admirers and supporters – the residual class of combatants, who opposed colonialism – were ambivalent. To them, the nonagenarian had outlived his usefulness. Gone are the days when he was a mentor and role model. In popular valuation, history may not be kind to him.
Fear of life outside power
Mugabe had an obsession with power. He relished the pomp of his exalted office. He may have hoped to die in office. Gradually, he was being referred to as a life president. As a czar, the country had become his fortress. He is the lone rich man in a nation-state ravaged by poverty and squalor. His net worth as at June was $10 million. Indeed, Mugabe feared life outside power. He loathed the difficult adjustment to the ordinary man’s lifestyle. He was reluctant to abdicate. Thus, he became an obstacle to legitimate democratic succession in that country. Elections were held to sustain his hold on power. He was a great electoral manipulator. The umpire usually danced to his tunes. Literarily, the electoral commission operated in his bedroom. He was powerful and influential. From his country, he fired salvos at Britain and United States (U.S.) under the guise of sovereignty.
At 93, Mugabe brooked no opposition. His word was law. He even boasted that, if he would leave power, he must be succeeded by his wife, Grace. However, the reality dawned on him yesterday. He was caged by aggrieved soldiers. In that moment of tribulation, he was isolated for ridicule. Power, no matter how long it is wielded, is transient.
There is a vacuum in Zimbabwe. The soldiers of fortune lack legitimacy to hold on to power, although their self-imposed war of liberation against Mugabe was applauded. If they attempt to establish a military rule, the world will rise in unison to condemn their neo-colonial posturing. Military rule is old-fashioned in Africa. The onus is on the emerging military leaders to set up a transparent transition process moderated by an interim leadership with a limited time frame. The onus will be on the interim government heal the wounds inflicted by Mugabe and unite the country.
The man of history
Despite his colossal mistakes, Mugabe was a man of history. He was a member of the old brigade in Rhodesia, who fought for independence. His compatriot was the late Joshua Nkomo, who parted ways with him. Nkomo was tipped to lead the country after independence. The chance eluded him. He became the leader of opposition. Later, he served as vice president under Mugabe. The accord later broke down. Mugabe became the undisputed leader.
From a tender age, Mugabe was greatly inspired by Marxism. He served as the publicity secretary of the National Democratic Party or the ‘NDP.’ Later, he founded the socialist-nationalist movement Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which resolved to drive the British out of their homeland. He was detained by Rhodesian authorities for his radical activities. After independence in 1980, Mugabe became the prime minister, and later, the president. During his tenure as president, he managed to unite the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) with ZANU. He was highly protective of the Zimbabwean territory.
Born on February 21, 1924, he studied in all-exclusive Jesuit, Roman Catholic schools, and also attended the Kutama College, where he is believed to have led a solitary life and preferred to keep company with his books. He also studied at Fort Hare in South Africa, graduating in 1951. He later studied at Salisbury, Gwelo, Tanzania, earning six more degrees, in addition to his Bachelor of Arts degree, which he obtained from the University of Fort Hare. Mugabe became a lecturer at Chalimbana Teacher Training College, Northern Rhodesia, between 1955 and 1958. It was around that time that he was greatly influenced by the former Prime Minister of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
In 1960, Mugabe joined the NDP. The party was banned in September. Thus, he formed ZAPU, which was led by Joshua Nkomo. In 1963, he left ZAPU and formed ZANU, established on the basis of Africanist philosophies of the Pan Africanist Congress in South Africa. ZANU and ZAPU were officially banned on August 26, 1964, after a long political unrest. Mugabe was arrested and imprisoned indeterminately.
In 1974, while still in confinement, he was elected, under the influence of Edgar Tekere, to take over ZANU. Later, he was released from prison along with other separatist leaders to enable him attend a conference in Lusaka, Zambia. He fled to the border of Southern Rhodesia and accumulated a troop of Rhodesian rebel trainees. The struggle continued through the 1970s and the economy of Zimbabwe was in a state of pandemonium.
In 1979, Southern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe. On March 4, 1980, ZANU won 57 out of 80 Common Roll Seats and Mugabe was elected as prime minister. He sealed an accord with his ZAPU rivals. In 1981, a war broke out between ZANU and ZAPU. Four years later, Mugabe was re-elected and the fight persisted. After the murder of two ministers from the groups in 1987, Mugabe and Nkomo decided to merge their unions. They were united by economic worries. They were dedicated to economic recovery.
Mugabe became the executive President of Zimbabwe in 1987. He chose Nkomo as one of the senior ministers. Two years later, he implemented a five-year plan, which greatly benefited the economy.
In 1996, he passed a revision in 2000, wherein the amendment stated that Britain would have to pay compensations for seizing land from the blacks and if the British failed to do so, Mugabe would in turn, seize theirs.
In 2002, he won the presidential elections at a time Zimbabawe’s economy was in near ruins with widespread unemployment, famine and AIDS. He applied brute force to stay in office. This led him to win the parliamentary elections also, three years later.
He lost the presidential elections to Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008. But, he refused to leave office. He demanded a recount of the votes. To gain maximum number of votes, he was on the prowl, violently attacking and killing members of the opposition party.
After the bloodshed, Tsvangirai and Mugabe came to a mutual agreement that they both would share power. In 2010, he selected provisional governors for Zimbabwe without consulting Tsvangirai, which proved that he still wanted to retain autocratic control. A year after, he announced his bid to contest the 2012 presidential elections, which was for an indefinite period, postponed to 2013.
He displayed his interest to challenge Tsvangirai once again in the elections and in July 2013, when he was asked about his plans to run for president in the future, he said he would like to rule Zimbabwe till he hit a ‘century’.
Zimbabwe’s election commission declared Mugabe the president in August 2013 after winning a total of 61 per cent of the vote.
Mugabe was a lover of reforms. When he was elected as the President, he implemented a five-year plan, starting from 1989. In the course of the five-year plan, he loosened price limits for farmers, allowing them to set their own prices and he also built a number of clinics and schools for the people. By the end of the five year period, the economy had seen drastic positive change in terms of the manufacturing, mining and farming industries. The United Nations (UN) estimates unemployment in Zimbabwe to be as high as 80 per cent. The economy of Zimbabwe is in ruins. Life expectancy is a little above 50 years. Massive hyperinflation has made the local currency of Zimbabwe worthless. The exchange rate of Zimbabwe dollar is 35 quadrillion to $1. The local currency has been retired and replaced with the U.S. dollar and South African rand, and this has led to the near collapse of the manufacturing industry in Zimbabwe.
In the club of dictators
Mugabe has not been the only face of horror in Africa. There were other sit-tight presidents and dictators, who left behind legacies of high handedness, brutality of the opposition and muzzling of democracy. Their regimes were marked by horror, terror, chaos and bloodshed.
Paul Kagame became the President of Rwanda in 2000. He rose to power through his guerrilla movement that ended the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He has spent 21 years in office. He has been accused of human rights abuse, oppression of opponents and the press.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was the President of Tunisia from 1987 to 2011. He assumed office in a bloodless coup, a month after he was appointed the prime minister. He led Tunisia for 23 years before stepping down in January 2011 due to massive protests demanding his exit. Tunisia witnessed stability and economic prosperity under Ben Ali. In 2012, in abstention, he was sentenced to a life imprisonment for his role in the murders of protesters in the 2011 revolution that led to his exit from power. He was accused of embezzlement, misuse of public funds, suppressing political opponents.
Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo (1967–2005) was one of Africa’s longest-serving dictator. He became the president after he led a military coup. He died of a heart attack in 2005. His son, Faure, was named the President of Togo in controversial circumstances.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda (1963–1994) led Malawi from 1961 till 1994. Banda lost effective control of Malawi during his absence from Malawi in 1993 when he was flown to South Africa for an emergency brain surgery. Bakili Muluzi, his former political protégé, became president in 1994, after the general elections Banda had earlier postponed, was conducted in 1994. Banda fought against colonialism and led of Nyasaland (now Malawi) to independence as Malawi in 1964. His reign left Malawi as one of the world’s poorest country. One in three children under five died of starvation. He tortured and murdered political opponents. Human rights groups alleged that at least 6,000 people were killed, tortured and jailed without trial.
Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan (1969–1985) came to power in a coup that ended five years of corrupt civilian rule. He was ousted from power in 1985 and went into exile in Egypt until he was allowed to return in 1999. He contested in the 2000 Sudanese elections; he got just seven per cent of the votes. He died at 79 in May, 2009. He signed the Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the First Sudanese Civil War and brought a decade of peace and stability to the region. But, his indiscriminate borrowing left the Sudanese economy in ruins. The Sudanese currency lost almost 90 per cent of its value against the major international currencies. He imposed Islamic sharia law in 1983. It led to a two-decade long war religious war between the Muslim North and the mainly Christian South.
Siad Barre of Somalia (1969-1991) took power in a coup. He ruled Somalia for over 20 years before he was overthrown in 1991. He passed away in January 1995, on exile in Lagos. General Barre’s exit left Somalia without a central authority, and this resulted in a civil war that left the country without a leader for over two decades.
Charles Taylor of Liberia (1997-2003), once described as the “tyrant of death,” was the President of Liberia from August 1997 until 2003 when international pressure forced him to resign and go into exile in Nigeria. He remains one of the most brutal dictators in Africa till date. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence for his involvement in what the judge described as “some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.” He was found guilty of terrorism, unlawful killings, murder, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons.
Yahya Jammeh of Gambia (1994-2017) took power in a bloodless military coup in 1994. In last year’s general elections, he was defeated by Adama Barrow, and surprisingly, he conceded defeat, only to reject the results few weeks after. He finally left Gambia on exile to Equatorial Guinea after sustained pressure by the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UN.
Idriss Deby of Chad (1990 – till date) and his Patriotic Salvation Movement (PSM), an insurgent group, backed by Libya and Sudan, sacked the incumbent government, and Déby became the President of Chad. Deby has used oil proceeds and funds that could have been used to develop Chad to purchase weapons and strengthen his Army. Forbes named Chad the world’s most corrupt nation in 2006.
Obiang Mbasogo (1979 – till date) has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979 when he ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in a bloody military coup and sentenced him to death by firing squad. President Obiang is one of the oldest and longest serving dictators in Africa. The state radio declared President Obiang “the country’s god” with “all power over men and things,” and thereby he “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell.” Unlawful killings, government-sanctioned kidnappings; torture of prisoners by security forces, and even accusations of cannibalism have trailed President Obiang’s regime. He has used an oil boom to enrich his family at the expense of the citizens of Equatorial Guinea.
Paul Biya of Cameroon (1982 till date) consolidated power in a 1983–1984 power struggle with his predecessor and he remains a powerhouse in Africa and the president of Cameroon till date. Cameroon has enjoyed peace and stability for the past 30 years. Biya’s regime has also overseen one of the strongest diplomatic relations in Africa. Biya perpetrated himself in power by organising sham elections and paying international observers to certify them free of irregularities.
Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola (1979 – till date). The father of Africa’s richest woman, Isabel Dos Santos, is Africa’s second longest-serving Head of State. Recently, he announced that he would finally step down and end his dictatorship over Angola. The Angolan economy has grown to become the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, after South Africa and Nigeria. But the allegations of corruption, misuse, and diversion of public funds for personal gain, human rights abuses, and political oppression.
Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (1968 -1979) was the first President of Equatorial Guinea. He ruled Equatorial Guinea before his nephew in 1979 overthrew him and sentenced him to death by firing squad for genocide and other crimes he committed. He was brutal. During his regime, he granted himself “all direct powers of Government and Institutions.” He ordered the death of entire families and villages; he executed members of his family, One-third of the population fled the country, he ordered every boat in the nation sold or destroyed and banned all citizens from the shoreline to prevent more people from escaping his terror.
Hissene Habre of Chad (1982-1990) seized power in 1982 from Goukouni Oueddei, who had just been elected President. He lost power to his former military commander, Idriss Deby, in December 1990. Habre fled to Senegal when Deby’s Libya backed insurgents marched into the capital, N’Djaména. In May 2016, he was convicted of crimes against humanity. Habre’s government carried out a frightening 40,000 politically motivated murders, and there are documented cases of at least 200,000 tortures.
Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan (1989 – till date) took power in a military coup. Al-Bashir is one of the most brutal dictators in Africa and despite ICC’s warrant against him; he remains the president of Sudan. The International Criminal Court wants Omar al-Bashir for genocide, war crimes, murder, rape, torture, and other crimes against humanity for his crimes in Darfur.
Sekou Toure (1958-1984) was elected as the first President of Guinea in 1958, a position he held until to his death in 1984. Toure, like many other dictators in Africa, survived several assignation attempts and coups while he was in power. He died of heart failure in 1984.
Toure banned all opposition parties and declared his party the only legal party in the country. He was accused of several cases of human right abuse and extrajudicial killings.
Gen. Sani Abacha (1993-1998) became the military Head of State of Nigeria in 1993 after he sacked the head of the Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was appointed after the annulment of the 1993 elections won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). The exact details of the dictator’s death in the presidential palace ON June 8, 1998 remains unclear till date.
According to international economic experts, Abacha’s regime was a massive economic success for Nigeria. Foreign exchange reserves rose from $494 million in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997. External debt was reduced from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997; inflation rate went down from the 54 per cent he inherited to 8.5 per cent between 1993 and 1998, and global oil price was priced at an average of $15 per barrel.’ But, the regime was characterised by massive looting and human right abuses such as the public hanging of political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and jailing several political opponents.
Col. Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1969. The charismatic leader of Libya met his waterloo during the Libyan revolution in 2011 after rebels in Sirte, his city of birth, killed him. Under Gaddafi, Libya became the first developing country to own a majority share of the revenues from its oil production. Gaddafi provided access to free health care, safe houses, food and clean drinking water, free education to university level which led to the dramatic rise in literacy rates. Gaddafi led oil-rich Libya as an absolute dictator, for close to 42 years, he quashed anyone that opposed him, and was responsible for the death of thousands of his people.
Idi Amin Dada (1971-1979) seized power in the military coup of January 1971, sacking Milton Obote. He fled Uganda in the heat of the Uganda-Tanzania war and went into exile in Libya and later Saudi Arabia where he lived until his death on August 16, 2003. His rule was characterised by rumors of cannibalism, frightening human rights’ abuses, political repression, extrajudicial killings, corruption and gross economic mismanagement.