When Robert Mugabe took his oath of office in 1980, he was seen as a hero and a towering figure in the eyes of Zimbabweans. But he never lived-up to his promise to be faithful and bear true allegiance to democracy in Zimbabwe.
Consumed with the belief of absolute power, Mugabe in 1987; changed the constitution to make himself president for life. Today, he is no longer a hero. He was placed under house arrest in a bloodless coup by the army.
This political development can be traced to the 20th century philosopher, George Santayana’s famous words: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” These words continue to capture public imagination because they speak to an abiding truth. Santayana’s warning takes on a stronger relevance in Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, which is on the threshold of a new era under its new interim President, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
History has taught us that smart political leaders have the insight to know when their time is up and would make a dignified exit in order to secure a favorable legacy. They are aware that today’s hero can easily become tomorrow’s villain, based on the tragic fate that befell many leaders before.
They overstayed their welcome. This seemed to be the case with Mugabe.
Amidst a lifeless economy, hyper-inflation and a 90 percent unemployment rate that has brought increasing hardship for Zimbabweans, it seemed that the tenure of 93-year-old Mugabe was near. A man of great learning, yet he somehow foolishly ignored the lessons of history. With seven earned academic degrees, he was reportedly Africa and probably the world’s most educated leader. But the colloquial saying that ‘book sense ain’t common sense’ appears true in this case.
Mugabe’s firing of Vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa was hislast mistake. He wanted his despised and ambitious wife, Grace, be officially anointed as his heir-apparent.
In 2014, Mugabe fired a Vice President at the behest of his much younger wife. He got away with it then, but this time, he clearly miscalculated the public support of Mnangagwa who has strong support among the military, even though he is considered just as ruthless or more than Mugabe.
Despite being revered by the masses as a legendary hero who fought white minority rule and gained independence for the country, Mugabe lost significant public support. Besides the economic hardships, another factor was the lavish lifestyle of his wife, nicknamed “Gucci Grace” because of her desire for splurging on high-end brand goods.
Mugabe’s exit was staged by the army in what is considered a soft coup. He was placed under house arrest and was given an opportunity to negotiate his exit. However, his defiance forced his ZANU-PF party officials to strip him of his title as leader and was bluntly told to resign or face impeachment. He chose the former.
Given our allotted time on earth of three score and ten, based on the Bible, why would the 93-year-old Mugabe who should be enjoying his twilight years, want to stay in office, especially after having served 37 years as President of Zimbabwe.
Perhaps, the answer lies in the nature of power itself, which according to Lord Acton, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The truth is power tends to give leaders a delusional sense of invincibility, infallibility, and indispensability.
Mugabe contrasts sharply with another revered freedom fighter from South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years in prison for leading the struggle against white minority rule, Mandela opted to retire after one term.
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