Zimbabwe went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a president. The now perennial two horse race pitted President Robert Mugabe against his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe has run the southern Africa nation for thirty three years now and at 89 shows no interest in stepping down soon.
Since 1980 he has strengthened his hold on power by first neutralizing his most credible opposition, fellow freedom fighter Joshua Nkomo and his ZAPU party, became an executive president, broke the back of the white commercial farming class by arbitrarily distributing land and is now well on the way to retiring Tsvangirai, the former trade unionist and the latest challenge to Mugabe’s hold on power.
"From afar we click our tongues at Mugabe and wonder why he just doesn’t let go. We lament that in trying to hold on to power he has whittled away any good will he had as a freedom fighter. And we sigh at how he has brought a once vibrant economy based on agriculture and mineral wealth literally to its knees...
Ranting about neo-colonial plots he has, simultaneously forced his country to surrender part of its sovereignty by using the US dollar as the national currency. Inflation had so got out of hand that the Zimbabwe Dollar was not worth the paper it was printed on and in an effort to restart the economy the country adopted the US dollar as it’s on.
And we wonder what happened to Uncle Bob.
He does not fit the stereotype of the cold war buffoon – he has several degrees to his name and they must be genuine judging by his eloquence in the languages he speaks and command of the English language. He is not a fool.
To psychoanalyse Mugabe from this far away is futile, impractical and unnecessary. It is more useful to understand power – how it is captured and retained, in trying to work out but not justify, the motives of Uncle Bob.
Mugabe came to power at the head of ZANU, a political group that sponsored a rebellion against Ian Smith’s white minority rule government. Zimbabwe like South Africa and Kenya was earmarked by the British as a colony, a place they intended to settle forever not unlike Australia and New Zealand. In such instances the war for independence and eventually against white minority rule, was often bloody, with the colonial government aided substantially by the settler community.
The settler community were the beneficiary of large tracts of the most fertile land from which the local population were displaced previously.
So the hero worship a figure like Mugabe enjoys from the beginning is enough to paper over any shortcomings he may have, as anything is better than the oppression of the colonial administration.
In addition the nature of the freedom struggle was not very structured, with decision making centralized and often times done on the go. There was no real institutional structure to defer to and this arbitrariness carried on into government, overriding established procedures and institutions.
And last but not least was the question of how do you reward the “comrades in arms” who had executed the struggle in the absence of well laid procedure?
We shouldn’t forget too that once Mugabe assumed the leadership of Zimbabwe, his rivals did not slink off into the sunset to lick their wounds, but made tactical withdrawals with every intention of dislodging him by any means, fair or foul.
"The dynamics of holding on to power in the context of a pliant population, eroding institutional capacity and a base of cronies fattened on the spoils of war meant Mugabe’s rule, or anyone else in his peculiar circumstances, could only go one way -- downhill.....
And so many years down the road when the leader gets an attack of conscience and seems to be faltering in his resolve to hang on, his associates will be quick to reassure him how he is still needed and if the worst comes to the worst black mail him to continue, if only as a figurehead.
They fear that his capitulation could weaken them against attack from external forces or worse, cause internal rivalries to erupt and jeopardize the whole project. Keeping him on is there best bet for continued feasting at the high table.
Mugabe still talks a good game, tearing into his rivals, and pumping up neocolonial conspiracy theories to justify his place, but it is hard to believe he is not alone, held hostage by these power bases that he built up to bolster himself over the last three decades.
The poll results were not out by the time of going to press but they will be announced by the end of business on Monday. It is hard to see any other result than a continuation of Uncle Bob’s tenure at the top of Zimbabwean affairs.
But then again stranger things have happened!