Delayed exit

Published November 29, 2017

SEVEN days ago, it seemed pertinent to point out the contrast between a young prime minister’s unexpected resignation in Riyadh and a veteran leader’s refusal to relinquish his powers in Harare. The tables turned before the ink was dry, so to speak.

Saad Hariri ‘suspended’ his resignation after returning to Beirut a week ago. Whether he remains for long at the helm may well depend on whether his reinvigorated status as a national hero, after spending several days as an involuntary guest of the Saudi regime, enables him to tame the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, his partner in power. That’s an unlikely prospect.

Robert Mugabe, meanwhile, following a speech in which he defied expectations by refusing to announce his departure, eventually offered his resignation in a letter to the parliamentary speaker, redoubling the enthusiasm of Zimbabweans who have been sporadically celebrating on the streets ever since the military first flexed its muscles earlier this month, most of whom have known no other head of government.

The dancing on Harare’s streets echoes the jubilation of 1980.

It has been a tumultuous week in a number of other respects, too, with Islamist militants massacring more than 300 worshippers at a mosque in Sinai — the deadliest such attack thus far in Egypt, whose ex-military leader has reacted in the only way he knows, by threatening the use of brute force — just days after a similar atrocity at a mosque in Nigeria. And Pakistan has succumbed yet again to an outburst of blasphemy-related accusations, with the fanatics notching up another win as the state yet again acceded to an absurd demand.

The very fact that the upholders of obscurantist ideas can kick up such a fuss over electoral rules serves as a reminder of the degree to which the nation has regressed in the past four decades. Most younger readers will be unfamiliar with the times when the term ‘Islam pasand’ was widely directed as a political slight against the followers of Maulana Maudoodi.

Today, anyone who dissents from the most bizarre interpretations of the faith is open to the charge of blasphemy. And the fact that the votaries of Hindutva in India can be equally vile in their thoughts and actions hardly offers any consolation.

Pakistan was already in the grip of a fundamentalist fanatic by the time Mugabe assumed power in the new nation of Zimbabwe, previously known as Southern Rhodesia (named after the colonialist pillager Cecil Rhodes) in April 1980. It was a sparkling moment for southern Africa. Most of the continent’s other colonies had already gained their independence in the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, even Angola and Mozambique, colonised by Portugal, were free states.

In order to pre-empt any form of majority rule, Southern Rhodesia’s Ian Smith had opted for a unilateral declaration of independence in the mid-1960s. It remained internationally unrecognised. Smith sought to ease out white minority rule towards the end of the following decade, but it was too late to make amends. The liberation struggle, spearheaded by factions loyal to Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo (backed respectively by China and the Soviet Union) wasn’t going to be halted by Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s installation at the helm. Britain assumed control once more and paved the way for elections that ensconced Mugabe in power, with Nkomo as a leading colleague.

The truce did not last long. Thousands of Ndebeles were massacred in Nkomo’ s base of Matabeleland in 1983-84, in the first indication of the sporadic brutality that would characterise Mugabe’s misrule. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sworn in as the successor president last Friday, was intelligence chief at the time and his nickname, the Crocodile — earned over the years of faithful, and sometimes ruthless, service to Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party — speaks for itself.

The dancing on the streets of Harare in recent weeks clearly echoes the jubilation of 1980 — when Bob Marley, in a song dedicated to the reborn nation, which he performed at its independence day ceremony, presciently declared: “Soon we will find out who is the real revolutionary.” The celebrations in both instances were perfectly understandable, and quite possible premature.

Zimbabwe initially did make significant progress on several fronts, and its subsequent woes were not always entirely of its own making. But does Mugabe really deserve the $10 million golden handshake he is reported to have received, alongside immunity from prosecution for himself and his family, when he leaves behind a nation, still firmly in the grip of the party that sustained him in power for 37 years, with a worthless currency and unemployment believed to range between 80 and 90 per cent largely on account of a disastrously botched land reform programme?

Comrade Bob’s legacy as a liberation fighter has long been overshadowed by the incompetent tyranny he instituted. Zimbabwe can certainly recover, but it is bound to be a long and arduous journey that has barely begun.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017

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