The glee has been unprecedented and the streets of Harare have never witnessed such hysterical moments. In the eyes of the people, the army have become national heroes for daring to do the impossible, and the once revered Robert Mugabe has become a national caricature. The placards on the streets of Zimbabwe have been damning to behold for the 93 years old. One of such placards in the hands of a teenager read: ‘Rest in Peace, Robert’. It is a case of the downfall of the patriarch of Africa’s strongmen.
For many, Mugabe was Zimbabwe. He has become synonymous with the Southern African Country. Mugabe’s rise to tyranny was a heroic ascension. He spent 11 years as a political prisoner under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government. He rose to lead the Zimbabwe African National Union movement and was one of the key negotiators in the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, which led to the creation of a fully democratic Zimbabwe. Elected prime minister and later president, he embraced conciliation with the country’s white minority but sidelined his rivals through politics and force. Beginning in 2000, he encouraged the takeovers of white-owned commercial farms. For 37 years, he was a torn in the flesh of the West. His economic policies have also left Zimbabwe in economic doldrums and his intolerance for meaningful opposition made him a tyrant at best. The last straw that broke the camel’s back for Mugabe was the removal of long term vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa and installation of his wife, Grace. The people had had enough and the army led the so called ‘peaceful coup’ that peaked with the resignation of Mugabe and the coronation of Mnangagwa as president. The fiasco has left a few lessons in its wake.
Mugabe was perhaps one of the last men standing in the litany of long serving African leaders; thus, signaling the fact that the people know better in today’s Africa, and the days of family dynasties are coming to an end. The goal of Mugabe was to die in office but he should have listened to his senile mind. The world around him was changing fast and that reality was lost upon him. Another apt point is how much people generally have a sieve memory. For all his dictatorial tendencies, he was the man in the forefront of Zimbabwe liberation from white minorities. He spent over a decade in prison and suffered several arrests. While it will be naïve to condone his longevity in office, it will also be foolhardy not to acknowledge his contributions to the society. The tales of joy and sheer ridicule of Robert Mugabe by many Zimbabweans is a rude reminder that the same people who sing ‘Alleluia’ will be swift to chant ‘Crucify him’ when it is convenient. It is a sad fact of life but the reality is that: people forget! Going forward, Zimbabwe must tread with caution, and be careful of the West and its outstretched arms of friendship. It is true that isolating the rest of the world is not the way to go in today’s global planet but terms of friendship must be clear and carefully assessed. The demise of Mugabe does not translate to economic and social flourish for Zimbabwe. The road ahead will be tougher than the previous 37 years spearheaded by Mugabe. In many ways, this doesn’t look like a revolution, in Reuben Abati’s words ‘it is a re-arrangement of the power nexus within the ruling party. This is all at the end of the day about Grace Mugabe.’ The state of Libya post Muammar Gaddafi is a clear reminder that such phase must not be handled with kid gloves.
How posterity will remember Mugabe will remain the contemplations of historians. It is very likely that the jury will remain discursive in their verdict for this is a man that means different things to different people.