The era of Robert Mugabe—the most intellectual of African presidents—is coming to an end. Who will follow him?by Stephen Chan / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
There is no doubt the elegant 83 year old with the tailored suits is a fighter. He has been fighting all his life, often against huge odds. Now he imagines he is facing the greatest fight of his life, and he fantasises he will win. Even his opponents in Britain are weary of denouncing him. The home office is itching to send failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers home—since it seems the chaos in Zimbabwe is as stable as it is ever going to get.
But Mugabe wants not only to survive politically but also to complete his work of nationalisation—of the state and of the land—and to defend what he has done against all-comers. He is not mad, but he is a zealot. He is the most intellectual of the African presidents, but he is not a technocrat. He is the philosopher who lost his way as a king—Nietzsche sitting in the rubble of Harare.
And he is not a farmer. He has very soft hands. They have not held a hoe for decades. For Mugabe, the land is an ideological necessity, but its cultivation is only a fantasy. He had no idea what he was unleashing when, finally and abruptly, he moved to seize the farms. A bit, perhaps, like the US entering Baghdad, expecting the population to rejoice with spontaneous democracy.
But the farms were the backbone of the nation’s economy. The result, seven years on, is almost 2,000 per cent inflation, with the prospect of 4-5,000 per cent by year’s end. Mugabe sees the phlegmatic patience of his citizens, thinks the opposition-led rallies are an aberration—and seeks to crush them accordingly. But behind the scenes, his own, formerly close, lieutenants have nurtured doubts for the last two years and, now, seeking to safeguard their own futures, are contemplating his end.
More ominously for Mugabe, the African presidents whom he had led intellectually are now in close contact with precisely these former lieutenants, and also with the leaders of the two opposition parties. Why did it take so long coming? Partly because of Mugabe’s intellectual leadership. There is a great desire to be autonomous in thought as well as deed in Africa. There is even a chauvinism, almost an autarky, in the image of an Africa without the west—even if it means a transitional Africa with China in the…