By Emmanuel Ugwu
History teaches us that dictators tend to rehearse the same tragic script: they indulge in the delusion of their own hubris, overreach themselves, and make themselves vulnerable to a disastrous downfall. Robert Mugabe has yet to agree to his removal from office with a formal resignation. But, for all practical purposes, he has bitten the dust. The oldest tyrant in the world has been shoved into an afterlife of ignominy.
His 37 years-long chokehold on Zimbabwe has ended. The people he ruled with an iron hand can now breathe. They are now free to imagine a better nation and a more dignified existence. The low-key “coup’’ of Wednesday was an unforeseen development. Zimbabweans and the rest of the world had all but given up hope that the Southern Africa country would witness a leadership change in Mugabe’s lifetime. Power seemed to be the 93-year-old’s elixir of life. The more he drank it, the more his longevity stretched.
Mugabe was a confirmed megalomaniac. He was so possessed of the lust for power that he was incapable of conceiving a normal life outside the realms of power. He was married to rulership. Only death appeared strong enough to separate him from the presidency. Mugabe was a strongman made of the essence of his insecurities.
He had grown very accustomed to power. He dreaded the outcome of the confrontation with the question of the meaning of his life in the absence of imperial appurtenances. He felt threatened by the fact he couldn’t function as a human being in a Zimbabwe he wasn’t actively micromanaging.
As a result, he tarried in power long after his legitimacy had expired. He outlived his usefulness and transformed into the nagging, noxious curse of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe first made a name as the leader of the independence war. He was an articulate and bold firebrand. His charisma and conviction enlivened the pockets of nationalist agitators and put him at the head of the guerrilla force that weakened the authority of the white colonialists and bent them to surrender to the urgent demand for black indigenous rule. At the dawn of independence, he emerged as the natural choice to lead the newly emancipated country. The revolutionary had won the confidence of the people with his heroic role in the Rhodesian Bush War. He was placed on a pedestal as a reward. At the time, he looked particularly suited to manage the affairs of the nation and deliver its rich promise.
His early days in power did not offer any ominous sign of a nascent sit-tight dictatorship. But after a modest beginning, Mugabe abandoned humility and shed the sense of stewardship.
He redefined himself as the founding father whom the Zimbabwean nation owed everything. Having cast aside the burden of accountability, Mugabe had no restraint to check his impulses. He allowed himself the liberty to conflate his significant contribution to Zimbabwean independence with a right of proprietorship of the country. And, that warped paradigm of ownership predisposed him to impunity.
He started to administer the nation with jealous possessiveness. He criminalized dissent, institutionalized his parochial views as the fundamental principles of state policy, and turned the conduct of sham elections into an art form. The immediate cause of Mugabe’s fall was his attempt to leverage his monopoly of power to institute a dynasty.
e tried to purge the ruling ZANU-PF of his potential successors and create room to transfer power to his wife. The plot failed close to the actualization of the endgame. The surprise deus ex machina that blanked Harare with surreal quietness has been dubbed ‘’coup de-Grace.’’ In the literal sense, the putsch was a necessary blow on a government that was begged to die. On the other hand, the term memorialized the preemptive measure taken to block First Lady Grace Mugabe from succeeding her husband.
Mrs. Mugabe, 52, cleared her path to power by knocking her more experienced rivals out of reckoning. She contrived the spurious allegation that former Vice President Joice Mujuru was planning to overthrow President Mugabe and forced her sack. She also told a similar lie against Muguru’s replacement, Mr. Emmerson Mnangagwa, and instigated his sack. She was set to step into the vacant vice presidency and assume duty like a proper regent when the military intervened.
The continuation of the Mugabe years by his wife would have meant the elongation of nearly four decades of one-man minority rule in Zimbabwe. And, the relatively young Grace would have done no better than perpetuate a status quo that prospered the Mugabe clique and pauperized majority of Zimbabweans. She believed that she was most qualified to take over from Mugabe because she could be trusted to sustain her husband’s legacy.
The nearly successful spousal takeover was a tragedy averted. Mugabe’s legacy cries for reversal. A second Mugabe would have hastened the extinction of Zimbabwe as we know it. Through a mix of policies –notably, the violent land redistribution –which precipitated harsh international sanctions, trickle-down pyramidal corruption, and the shrinking of government to a personality cult, Robert Mugabe crumbled Zimbabwe and made it the poignant postcard of a banana republic. Grace Mugabe would have aggravated the misery of that dystopian disaster zone.
The fall of Mugabe reiterates the lesson that a republic may endure the dictator for a while but not forever. He wanes as his years increase. And, he is doomed to provoke fatal disgrace by betting on his false reading of his strength. If you dropped a pin on the map of Africa, it is likely to fall on one of the dozen countries under the yoke of a despot. Paul Biya’s Cameroon. Teodoro Obiang’s Equatorial Guinea. Dennis Sasson’s Congo. Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan.Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda.Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s Algeria. Pierre Nkurunziza’s Burundi. Idris Derby’s Chad. IsaiasAfweki’s Eritrea.
Gambia’s Yaya Jammeh was recently thrust into oblivion. The head of the legendary Mugabe on a pike should be a more serious reality check to African dictators who fancy themselves invincible. If they are not past redemption, they would be pondering an exit strategy. They would be considering the possibility of creating a footnote that is different from Mugabe’s shameful fade-out. They would be thinking of meaningful gestures of penance, positive ways to atone for their abuse of power.
This teachable moment can also save the soul of the brilliant but budding tyrant of Rwanda, Paul Kageme. If he doesn’t waste the disgrace of Mugabe or interpret it as a warning to tighten his grip on power, he can change course. This third term he secured by rewriting the constitution is his last realistic chance to leave power with minimal damage. If he lingers beyond this tenure, the cosmic principle that drives the dictator to self-destruct will claim his scalp.
The failure of Mugabe’s dynastic dream should prompt the spoilt prince-dictators of Africa to abdicate. Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Gabon’s Ali Bongo, and Togo’s Faure Eyadema should all step aside. The countries their fathers ruled are no family estates. Robert Mugabe betrayed his fortune. He lost what matters most because he was too weak to deny himself anything.
Ugwu writes via [email protected]