Robert Mugabe: Challenge and importance of finishing well

Sunday September 22 2019


By Harold Acemah

As if he wanted to go down in history like the icon and great African hero, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe died on September 6 at the same age as Madiba, 95 years. Both men had wives named Grace. I believe that is where the similarities end.

The “breaking news” of Mugabe’s death in Singapore was received with a weird sense of jubilation in newsrooms and political science departments across Africa and the world. It provided and continues to provide a field day and a feeding frenzy for journalists, columnists and political scientists.

Before I got to know the inner workings of the media, I was often amazed by how quickly media practitioners publish lengthy and detailed obituaries and commentaries on VIPs, so soon after they die.

After some exposure on how the media functions, I learnt that media houses assign staff to prepare draft obituaries of every Tom, Dick and Harry among VIPs long before the inevitable last day comes to pass. So when “breaking news” occurs, obituary writers simply download and fill in the blanks, such as, date, cause and venue of death of the deceased.

One can safely assume that media houses have already prepared draft obituaries of most African political dinosaurs whose days are numbered, such as, president Teodoro Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and president Paul Biya of Cameroon, to mention but a few.
Mugabe has left a lamentable, tragic and unenviable legacy. He eventually fell on his own sword. Power corrupted him so thoroughly that he believed he was invincible.

I predict the verdict of history on comrade Mugabe will be merciless. Except for close relatives and cronies, nobody will miss Mugabe. On balance, his record leaves a lot to be desired and his legacy is as worthless as the Zimbabwe dollar which was abandoned as national currency in 2009.


Finishing well matters
The concept and goal of finishing well is important for all human beings, especially for believers. The apostle Paul wrote extensively on this subject and one of the classic passages on the matter is contained in Chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul writes:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4 v 6-8 (NIV)

Like many self-styled and self-centred African freedom fighters and revolutionaries, past and present, Mugabe started well, but finished badly, in fact so badly that one can almost hear the racist former prime minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, laugh in his grave and whisper, I told them so!

As I wrote in a previous opinion, I first met Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in 1975 in New York when the co-presidents of Zanu-PF came to address the UN Security Council on the situation in Rhodesia, which was locked in a bitter and protracted liberation war led by the two freedom fighters. Mugabe was a cool, intelligent and eloquent man who left a positive impression on most delegates.

When he became prime minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980, he did not disappoint and confirmed the positive image he cut as a freedom fighter and pan-Africanist.

In 1986, I visited Zimbabwe to attend a Non-aligned Movement Summit in Harare and was pleasantly surprised by the country whose economy was booming and Zimbabwe dollar was stronger than the Uganda Shilling, which contrasts sharply with what prevailed a decade or so later. The rest is history, but what a tragic end to a promising beginning!

Mugabe and many African leaders forget or ignore at their own peril the fact that they are servants of the people to whom power belongs.

How dare he tell Tony Blair, “Zimbabwe is mine, keep your Britain, I will keep my Zimbabwe” as if the country of which he was a servant is his personal fiefdom?

Paul compared Christian life with a race and looked forward eagerly to the prize which awaits those who cross the eternal finish line. Mugabe failed dismally to cross the temporal finish line and has consequently been dumped in the dustbin of history. I tell you, many others will soon follow him there.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.