It is a bit difficult to shift one’s attention to the interests of the Zimbabweans, when one is so strongly drawn to focusing on the unceremonious downfall of Robert Mugabe from the presidency of that once proud people.
Oh, how are the mighty fallen! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
That story repeats itself over and over: presidents and prime ministers who come to power legitimately, sometimes even on a wave of popularity, but who fail to recognize the facts of political life when the time comes for them to step down.
They fail to follow the example of Julius Nyerere, the patriot of Tanzania and of the iconic Nelson Mandela, the liberator of South Africa.
They refuse to prepare a smooth and democratic transition of political power to a new leader, to a new generation of leaders.
Sometimes, it is political arrogance: they come to think that they are God’s gift to politics, the divinely appointed political messiah. They begin to believe that they are far superior to any other leaders or potential leaders.
Sometimes, it is the addiction to power itself. Drunk with the taste, the smell and the feel of power, they cannot begin to imagine that they can ever live without it.
Sometimes, it is the wealth: the money, the houses, the office buildings, the farms and the vast tracts of land; the millions of dollars in stocks, bonds and securities. These are the economic spoils of power.
And then there are leaders who suffer from all of those deficiencies at the same time.
Robert Mugabe was all of that and more. He was the basket case of the genuine and highly respected liberator who had fought a valiant guerrilla war to free his people from the political, economic, social and racist chains of colonialism.
In doing so, he had defeated Ian Smith, the white colonial leader who had rejected the emergence of black-majority rule in what was then Rhodesia. Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence from Britain at the head of 270,000 white settlers was finally brought to an end by Mugabe’s rebel forces in 1979.
However, after elections were held in 1980 and Mugabe became Prime Minister of the newly renamed Republic of Zimbabwe, the decades-long battle for economic power did not eventually result in a better standard of living for the vast majority of black Zimbabweans.
Over those decades of black frustration, Mugabe was “credited” with the ruthless takeover of the country’s major levers of power, including the military.
On the one hand, he was believed to have sidelined, violently oppressed and physically exterminated thousands of his opponents.
On the other hand, he was also alleged to have amassed a considerable amount of wealth, while large segments of his people remained in poverty and squalor.
Given that track record of political despotism, massive human rights abuses and unbridled greed, it is not at all surprising that his “forced resignation” from the presidency brought none of the usual protests over the “removal” of a democratically elected leader.
Not a single African government complained. No international agency, neither governmental nor non-governmental, objected. None of the major industrialized countries rose to defend the interruption of democracy in Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth countries silently approved the triumph of justice over tyranny.
On the contrary, large numbers of Zimbabweans have been publicly celebrating Mugabe’s ouster. There appears to be a broad consensus of agreement with the army’s “soft coup”.
Even Mugabe’s political party seems to endorse the consequent restoration of former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the corridors of power. Mugabe had fired his long-time ally and second-in-command in an effort to promote his wife Grace Mugabe as the chosen presidential successor.
Some fundamental questions still remain hanging over the heads of Zimbabweans.
Can they expect an improvement in the respect for democracy, human rights, fair elections and political freedoms under the leadership of President Mnangagwa, whose complicity in Mugabe’s past political excesses is widely accepted as fact?
Can they look forward to any significant improvement in their standard of living under their new leader?
Will their new leader be any more successful than their fallen former hero in securing for a more equitable share for Zimbabweans in the benefits of the country’s resources and economic activities?
And Caribbean Heads of Government must be looking on at the economic woes of resource-rich Zimbabwe and South Africa with their own question mark on their respective faces.
Are post-colonial societies ever going to learn how to successfully balance economic development, foreign investment and the fair distribution of the benefits of the economy among the citizenry?