John Alechenu takes a brief look at the life and times of Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest serving controversial statesmen considered dictator by some and hero by others, who died in a hospital in Singapore, on Friday aged 94
It is Blackman’s land and therefore the Blackman must have the right to determine who shall have it and who shall not. Not their money, they can keep their money, we want our land and from our land we will get money-Robert Mugabe (1924-2019)
Zimbabwe’s founding President, Robert Mugabe, who ruled the southern African nation with an iron fist for most part of his 37 year reign, died in a hospital in Singapore, on Friday.
His death came barely two years after he was forced out by the same military which kept him in power for close to four decades. He was 95.
Mugabe was considered by the Zimbabwe opposition as well as foreign powers – especially Britain and America- who bore the brunt of his iron fisted rule; as a corrupt and brutal dictator. His supporters mostly veterans of the liberation struggle and members of the Zimbabwe African National Union, considered him a hero for providing the much needed leadership during the “bush war” as liberation struggle was referred to.
Mugabe, like most of his contemporaries across the African continent, was from a very poor background. He was born into a lowly Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia, on 21st February, 1924. He had his early education at Kutama Collage and the University of Fort Hare after which he worked first, as a school teacher in Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia before going to teach in Ghana.
Uncomfortable with the degrading existence of his countrymen under white minority and his exposure to Marxism, young Mugabe joined the growing tribe of Africans demanding an end to white minority rule and an end to colonialism on the African continent. For his efforts, the Rhodesian government sent him to jail for spreading anti-government rhetoric.
He was later chosen as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union, a political movement (which he was a founding member) while still in prison.
After his release, he contested and won the first general elections, by this time, Rhodesia had become Zimbabwe. Most analysts agree that in his first years in office, he raised literacy levels and increased access to health care among the majority black population in the country. The nation still ranks among those with the highest literacy levels on the continent. Some argue that his administration’s controversial land reforms of 2000 exacerbated a simmering economic turmoil. Efforts aimed at equitably redistributing land earlier appropriated by white settlers during colonialism collapsed; when the British failed to hold up their side of the bargain.
Under the failed pact which was famously referred to as the Lancaster House Agreement, the British agreed to pay for land occupied by descendants of European farmers. This was not to be as Tony Blair, the then British Prime Minister, reneged. Mugabe bowed to local pressures to effect a constitutional change to speed up the process.
Under the new reforms, descendants of European farmers were forced out of the land they occupied and the land was subsequently redistributed to the black majority.
The late Zimbabwean strong man’s economic policies angered the west which in turn imposed crippling economic sanctions which threw Zimbabwean’s once robust economy into a tailspin with hyper-inflation which currently stands at a record 97.9 per cent.
In life, just as in death, Mugabe arguably Africa’s most educated president with a record eight degrees to his credit, evokes mixed reactions.
In a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation, George Walden, one of the British negotiators at the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979 which ended white-minority rule, was quoted as describing Mugabe as a “true monster.”
He was also quoted as saying, the agreement “turned out rather well… and looked good for a while”, but Mr. Mugabe later became “a grossly corrupt, vicious dictator.”
Zimbabwean Senator David Coltart, was also quoted as saying Mugabe’s his legacy was marred by his adherence to violence as a political tool.
A Nigerian political scholar, Prof. Ayo Olukotun, speaking in a similar vein, described Mugabe’s later years as a tragedy of an African revolutionary leader turned oppressor.
Olukotun, said it was tragic because Mugabe didn’t know when to quit.
“He came to power as an anti-colonialist and leader of a revolutionary party. Nigeria even assisted his party in those times. For a few decades, he did well and there were hopes of a new beginning for Zimbabwe. However, the tragedy of his later years was that of a population repressed, famished and put under the iron rule,” he said.
Mr. Joseph Anuga, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, spoke in a similar vein.
He said, “Mugabe started on a bright note but like most of his contemporaries who refuse to respect term limits, he forced exit from power was a reminder to remaining despots on the continent that the end in near.”
The bigger tragedy of Mugabe’s death remains in the fact that over five decades after independence, most African leaders still depend on foreign powers for healthcare which their citizens have continued to yearn for.