NOW DAILY EDITORIAL
For every public appearance that Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe makes, there are screaming headlines in the newspapers, congratulating him for still standing on his feet.
“He managed to speak for more than one hour,” exclaimed the pro-Mugabe and Zanu PF state-run Herald propaganda sheet recently, after Mugabe hobbled into public view more than a month after disappearing amid rumours that he had died.
That Mugabe took so long to dispel reports of his death which swelled on social media is not good for a leader in the electronic age. When false reports of his death or serious sickness surfaced in January, all Mugabe needed to do was post a current video on You Tube disproving the claims. It was in the national interest that Zimbabweans be assured of the health status of the head of state and commander-in-chief.
The new story on the social media chain is that Mugabe has gone blind as a result of his recent surgery, or at least that he can no longer see as well as he should, or read speeches.
But Mugabe and his aides prefer to keep the taxpayers who are funding their regular foreign jaunts in the dark about a fundamental aspect of his reign: his health. Anywhere else, the health of a president would be a matter of public concern, something which the political opposition should monitor closely. It should be possible for Parliament to subject the head of state to mental and physical fitness tests to ensure that the country does not suffer from his incapacity as is the case at present, where Zimbabweans are not sure whether their ever-ranting president is sane or insane. After all, poor health is good grounds to impeach a president if he fails to perform, as is the case with Mugabe, whose policies are driving the economy into the ground.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s health is considered not a state secret that is guarded closely. Despite all the publicly available evidence that Mugabe is too old, too sick and too weak to perform his duties effectively, the Zanu PF mafia that surrounds him prefers to play politics and shield him from legitimate questions about his health. Questions and speculation about his health status are treated as treason.
Mugabe turned 90 on February 21. Health experts often advise leaders in all spheres of life to cut public engagements and extensive air travel after they reach 80. It is common cause that at that age a person is no longer fit to engage in stressful activities such as public governance. Mugabe’s own performance in the public arena in the last ten years confirms this common logic, which has guided voters in countries that are free and are concerned about the welfare of every citizen, not just one megalomaniac ruler and his cohorts.
Some have tried to make comparisons between Mugabe and the Israeli president Shimon Peres, who is six months older than Mugabe. It must be said that Mugabe has lived two lives as an African because life expectancy in Israel is 81.5 years while in Zimbabwe it is thought to be 51.2 years, according to the World Bank. Besides, Peres is head of state of a prosperous nation, with ceremonial roles such as presenting medals to foreign dignitaries, while the active day-to-day running of government is for the prime minister, Ehud Barack. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe would not allow anyone to exercise real power in his absence even for a day. When he appoints an acting president during his many absences, she cannot even convene a cabinet meeting. She is never sent out to meet foreign leaders or attend summits because the president and his entourage see those as opportunities for them to loot the state treasury under the guise of travel allowances and to go shopping for luxuries.
Video evidence shows Mugabe dozing at most of the public meetings that he attends. Considering that Mugabe flies off to some foreign meeting almost every week, it is obvious that the country is losing billions in opportunities while Mugabe snoozes. The country cannot expect any return from those meetings. This year, Mugabe has not been in his office continuously for three days. He has convened only one cabinet meeting even when it is clear that the country needs his leadership and physical presence to deal with various crises.
Mugabe was nowhere to be found when thousands lost their homes to floods in the Tokwe Mukosi basin recently. He is nowhere to be found as the country reels under mounting pressures and the economy goes into tailspin once again due to corruption by his officials and general mismanagement.
POINT OF NO RETURN
Robert Mugabe and the nation have reached a tragic point of no return. It would seem that by leaving office, Mugabe is showing weakness. In fact, the opposite is true. By resigning, Mugabe would be demonstrating for the present and future generations that a leader can give up office even at the low point of his career and that a badly infected political system can cleanse itself through a return to democracy and accountability.
Right now, Mugabe is blowing millions of dollars of our taxes through frequent travel with the usual huge entourages to Singapore for treatment. It is fairly obvious that Mugabe can no longer balance the demands of his faltering health and the work of state. No-one blames him for being sick. All we are offering him is the chance to retire from public life like Mandela who gave up all public engagements at 87 and Pope Benedict at 85, following advice from doctors. Trying to be superhuman and claiming to be nine-years-old when you are 90 is the height of insanity.
We are sure that if Mugabe’s doctors are not the voodoo types who thrive on giving false advice, they would have warned him to slow down by now. It is human nature that we are at our weakest in infancy and old age, and must use the intervening years of good health to attend to all the causes that matter to us. If Mugabe has not achieved what he set out to attain at the right age, tough luck. We cannot be used as guinea pigs to see how we fare under a man in the dim twilight years of his life.
Zimbabwe is a country with a Constitution that makes specific demands on the head of state. Mugabe has failed to guarantee the welfare of Zimbabweans and we submit that his age is the reason why he cannot manage the show. If 90 is not a problem, why does Mugabe not appoint 90-year-olds to run his farms and private businesses? In fact, why does he not appoint 90 year-old ministers and staff the army which he heads with 90 year-old soldiers? It is a matter of biology and nature that when we reach a certain age we can no longer perform certain tasks.
There are several reasons why Mugabe has chosen to die in office. He fears prosecution for the murders of hundreds of thousands of political opponents, torture of millions, grand theft of state materials, corruption, looting foreign-owned businesses and the Operation Murambatsvina attacks on political opponents, which have been declared a Crime Against Humanity by the United Nations.
If Mugabe gave up power today, after 34 years at the helm, it would usher in a new dispensation and even save his collapsing party, which he claims to be saving by clinging on to state power.
Mugabe has been a disaster ever since he took power in 1980. He has used terror, repression, murder and threats to maintain his tight grip on power. Corruption and mismanagement have been a hallmark of his reign of terror. Victimisation and looting of foreign assets have made him a billionaire, with the proceeds stashed away in Asian banks.
What Mugabe did not prepare for is the openness that would be engendered by the electronic age, where dictators are finding it increasingly hard to hide their dirty secrets.
A head of state who pursues personal interests and wild ideas at the expense of nation-building soon finds himself with a rebellion in his own ranks, as has happened to this dictator. His own party is in revolt, with Mugabe himself admitting that factionalism was tearing it apart.
It is not our problem as Zimbabweans. We refuse to be used to solve Zanu PF succession disputes or to compromise our own future for the sake of a murderous despot who has run out of time. Like a dinosaur, failure to adapt to changing circumstances and changing practices in the global governance template have been Mugabe’s greatest undoing. Resource nationalism, closed government (Mugabe does not even have active Facebook or Twitter accounts and refuses to answer questions in Parliament regularly as required by the Constitution) and getting rich through corruption are old ideas that have no place in 21st century Zimbabwe.
The sooner this autocratic ruler gives up power the better for everyone. The alternative is that the oppressed will push him out, like other dictators. A bloody revolution is now a distinct possibility as Mugabe has closed all avenues for democratic change within or outside his own party.