Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Editorial | Zimbabwe deserves something better

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Like many people around the world, this newspaper is glad to see the back of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He should have gone a long time ago.

Yet, we do feel joy in his departure, or the manner of fall, of which the dramatic events of the past fortnight merely represented the crescendo of a long, slow disintegration - a rotting from within.

Or, as we put it in these columns five years ago, Robert Mugabe, now 93, had long ceased to be the man in whom Jamaicans once exulted. For, he had become "a sad caricature of the heroic figure who led the armed struggle against apartheid in Zimbabwe that, with the help of many countries, including Jamaica, culminated in black majority rule".

Therein lies part of the reason for our deep sense of betrayal. In his diminishing of Zimbabwe, his undermining of its democracy and the pauperising of his people, Mr Mugabe cheapened Jamaica's investment in its liberation.

Jamaica had been long before in strong opposition to Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and instigation of white minority rule in Rhodesia. We were supportive of Mr Mugabe's liberation war, as well as the other independence movements elsewhere in southern Africa. However, Michael Manley's premiership in the 1970s was a critical voice in articulating the morality and justness of those struggles. His interventions at the Commonwealth summit in Lusaka, Zambia, were crucial to breaking British resistance to Zimbabwe's black liberation movement.

It is hardly surprising, in the circumstance, that Bob Marley, whose songs were anthems for liberationists globally, was the headline performer at Zimbabwe's independence celebration in 1980, or that Mr Mugabe was inducted into the Order of Jamaica, one of Jamaica's top honours.




Mr Mugabe, though, was no Nelson Mandela, his contemporary liberation icon from neighbouring South Africa, who, a dozen years after Zimbabwe's independence, emerged from prison to take his country to genuine multiracial democracy and to govern with an incorruptibility and political rectitude that set him apart from other leaders.

If Mr Mandela transcended politics, Mr Mugabe proved himself very much the politician - of the kind who appreciates it as a tool for the accumulation of power, but without limitations by the norms of democracy. From liberation fighter, he morphed into the typical African autocrat - with a veneer of democracy and a slight sheen of ideology, the latter an admixture of anti-capitalism and anti-colonial sentiment to be used, with the support of the security forces, as cudgels against opponents. The institutions of the State were hardly separate from Mr Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Mr Mugabe's ultimate undoing wasn't that his country's economy had collapsed; that inflation and unemployment are stratospheric; that he had displaced the country's white farmers; that his government was universally deemed to be corrupt; or that he has been estranged by global leaders.

Rather, it was his attempt at building a family dynasty by removing long-standing colleagues to make way for his much younger, but unloved, wife, Grace. It was then that the army engineered a palace coup.

At 75, and a long-standing colleague of Mr Mugabe - until he was in Grace Mugabe's way - Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president, wouldn't be who we consider a harbinger of change. He carries too much baggage.

He has, however, said the right things. For now, we give him the benefit of the doubt, appreciating that constitutional order has prevailed in Zimbabwe and hoping that he is an interim leader, taking the country to free and fair elections. Zimbabweans deserve that opportunity and something better than it has had.