The resignation of President Robert Mugabe as Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces on Tuesday this week brings the curtain down on a 37-year reign, which had its successes and failures.
The bombshell news of his resignation was delivered by Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda to a special joint session of parliament. Lawmakers had convened to debate a motion to impeach Cde Mugabe. The development was greeted on the streets of the country’s cities and towns with car horns and wild cheering.
No doubt, the resignation capped the end of a historic week that saw the military intervening and tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to express support for the military and demand he stepped down.
The issue of Cde Mugabe was succintly summed up by Nigerian writer Reuben Abati when he likened his behaviour to the proverbial aged uncle in the village who keeps defying death.
“Each time uncle falls ill and the children and grandchildren begin to prepare for his funeral, he would suddenly wake up again, sometimes after his death has been announced and funeral arrangements have been made. The family got trapped in the endless funeral arrangements, until someone came up with the idea that the Oracle should be consulted to find out the mystery of the old man’s repeated Lazarus-like existence. The Oracle’s striking revelation was that the old man had a charm, a ring on the big toe of his left leg, and until and except that ring is removed, the man may never die.”
What the military here in Zimbabwe did was to remove that ring around Cde Mugabe’s thumb toe on the left leg. (It fished out the criminals around him).
Cde Mugabe’s axing of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa earlier this month, in an apparent attempt to pave the way for the First Lady Grace Mugabe’s succession, seems to have been a serious miscalculation.
Days after VP Mnangagwa’s ouster, the Zimbabwe’s army commander General Constantino Chiwenga criticized instability in the ruling Zanu PF party, saying “counter revolutionaries” were plotting to destroy it. Fury in the military was triggered, prompting intervention in the early hours of November 15.
Undoubtedly, Cde Mugabe’s resignation was hardly simple: It took much manoeuvring and the opening of impeachment proceedings before he had to bow to the inevitable.
Many Zimbabweans remember Cde Mugabe’s role in the history of their nation – he fought for independence, he defied the colonialists and the imperialists. When he took over as Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe, he preached the gospel of reconciliation and reached out to former oppressors, the whites. He emphasised on education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished. Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.
Indeed, many Africans viewed Cde Mugabe as a living, historic figure, inspiring diplomats and officials to stand and applaud his speeches criticizing Western powers at various international fora.
But the once revered revolutionary, in his later years, became a caricature of his old self.
The majority of the people did not like Cde Mugabe’s wife, turned power-seeker, Dr Amai Grace Mugabe. Lucy Kibaki, the wife of former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was so powerful, her husband openly bowed to her in public. In Africa’s patriarchal system, a President’s wife behaving like she has her husband on a leash, is bound to invite big problems. Dr Mugabe’s unbridled ambitions invited big trouble for her husband. Now, Zimbabwe, a beautiful country once so full of potential finds itself with weak institutions, collapsed industries and a staggering unemployment rate believed to be 90 percent.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who came to power through a rebellion in 1986, was sometime ago commended for writing that “the problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.” There seems to be consensus among right thinking Zimbabweans that Cde Mugabe had indeed overstayed his welcome.
His resignation may have softened his landing and put some shine on his chequered political legacy which had started well in 1980 only to flounder in the intervening years. When you want to hear your voice only, you are doomed as a politician. Cde Mugabe’s rhetoric did not save him this time. The people have spoken; those with ears have taken heed.
We believe the ingredients for Zimbabwe to succeed are there: Natural resources; plenty of young, well-educated, ambitious citizens (although many have left the country in recent years); and historically strong infrastructure, even if some institutions desperately need to be rebuilt. To make the most of these assets, there is need to bring back lost confidence, especially to the investors.
The incoming President, Cde Mnangagwa has a Herculean task ahead of him. He has made a good start by clearly stating that he will be a servant of the people. In the same vein, we need to remind one another that Rome was not built in a day. We need to give him and his team ample time to deliver. We say Goodbye Cde Mugabe, welcome Cde Mnangagwa!