I’ll rephrase … why Mugabe is one of my heroes this week. He hasn’t always been, but in recent years I’ve grown to appreciate what he stands for and I’ve grown to understand that his voice is so important in Africa and in the world today. I’ve come to realise he is important and he matters.
‘We also belong to the world, a part of the world called Africa and Africans shall no longer tolerate a position of slavery; slavery be any other name, by the denial of rights, by not being treated in a manner that is not the manner that they treat themselves.’
Robert Mugabe is one of the world’s most controversial characters. He won the hearts of many over 30 years ago when he and the freedom fighters brought independence to Zimbabwe, a country under the grip of British colonial law. As President, his government turned the country into an agricultural goldmine with large farms producing cash crops to sustain the economy and feed neighbouring countries. His schools boasted quality education. The country was peaceful and beautiful.
And then the spiral of events that turned him into the ‘despot,’ the dictator, the madman. To correct White dominance over the economy, he ordered repossession of those farms, taking them from White farmers and handing them to Black farmers, who lacked the experience or equipment to run them correctly. His message became very anti-White, leading to sanctions, withdrawal of development assistance (read: Aid). As HIV and AIDS ravaged Africa, Zimbabwe was not spared. The economy crumbled and Black and White nationals emigrated; Zimbabwe became a shadow of its former self. But still Mugabe stayed as president, year after year, election after election.
It’s been 34 years of independence and Mugabe has been the one and only president. In his own words, “I’ll still be here. As long as I’m still alive and I have the punch.”
Political opponents have come and gone, but Mugabe remains in power and remains as vocal and critical of the Western world as ever. He calls out the UK, the US and the EU for not minding their own business (the fight against corruption), or interfering with African politics when their politics was in no better state (Bush vs Gore). He criticises the West for imposing ideas that Africans may not necessarily accept (homosexuality). He lambasts their hypocrisy regarding human rights abuses when reports of war crimes and abuse occur in Afghanistan and Guantanamo.
In all of this, Mugabe has become hated by Westerners and Africans alike. Black and White people, but I suspect for different reasons. The White group might not like his actions, and true, it was harsh to dispossess people of their homes. Black people have also suffered at the hand of Mugabe, so many lives destroyed and people killed, home razed and voters threatened. Africans may not like his abuse of power over his people. Westerners may not like his disregard for democracy and his dominance over a country.
But Mugabe is the voice that Africa needs. Africa is a continent struggling for recognition, equality and economic independence. Still, after all these years and wars. Africa is struggling not on its own terms but on the terms of those cooperating partners who offer help with conditions. Mugabe, as outgoing AU chairperson, at the Summit in January, 2015, made clear comments demanding greater equality for African member states in the UN Security Council. “If the UN is to survive, we must be equal members. Speaking truly as members with voice… respected and honoured.”
His words were applauded and rightfully so. And the greater context was not just in the UN Security Council but in other global bodies in which Africa participates. Mugabe wasn’t saying anything that we Africans haven’t already thought or wanted. We live the inequality every day when we see our governments signing MOUs to have our resources mined, taken away and sold back to us. We know that the world needs us and yet they don’t look us in the eye like a partner. Mugabe rejects that sentiment. He says what his counterparts are afraid to say and he speaks for us Africans on a global stage. As uncomfortable as it might be, the Westerners are forced to hear him, and maybe listen. His words might not bring action but at least he has not been silent.
This is not to say that Mugabe has done nothing wrong. He has plenty of wrongs in his book. But the reason he is my hero today, this week, is because he has gone out there and spoken the uncomfortable truth on behalf of many Africans, so the West can know that they are not knights in shining armour and we Africans might not tolerate it for much longer. We have a lot of work to do for ourselves, but at least Uncle Bob is paving the way for us to have our voices heard, and to speak that uncomfortable truth.