President Robert Mugabe's carefully constructed, and diligently guarded, cult of personality presents him as a formidable intellectual, a principled and incorruptible leader, a crafty political operator and black liberation icon.
It's a public image which is protected by law, with many arrested and prosecuted over the years on allegations of insulting the veteran Zanu PF leader and thereby diminishing his public standing, dignity and authority.
But behind that public façade however, is something shockingly different,so says former deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara who got close and personal with President Mugabe during erstwhile coalition government.
Professor Mutambara was asked about his impressions of the mind-set of a dictator at Oxford University in the United Kingdom during his book tour last week. He said Mugabe had time for him because, as a committed Anglophile, the Zanu PF leader wanted to hear more about Oxford and the British.
NewZimbabwe.com later caught up with Prof Mutambara and asked him to elaborate on his impressions of Mugabe's character as well as his views on several other issues including next year's elections and the opposition's failure to form one grand coalition against Mugabe.
NewZimbabwe.com (NZ): Professor Mutambara, in your time in government, you had access to the man behind President Mugabe's public image. What you saw, if I may repeat your very words at Oxford, was an insecure man, a mediocre man who is so intimidated by superior intellect. What did you mean by that?
Professor Mutambara (PM): He (Mugabe) is not an able man, but an insecure chap of average intellect. Mugabe cannot work well with individuals of superior intellect or talent, strong personality, and independent thinking. This explains the fate of Eddison Zvobgo, Edgar Tekere, Ndabaningi Sithole, Simba Makoni, Dzinashe Machingura and Enos Nkala, to mention a few names.
Mugabe's shallowness, intellectual inadequacy, and lack of gravitas are best revealed by his packing order of matters he considers important: number ONE is himself, number TWO is his family, number THREE is ZANU-PF, number FOUR is the country. This means he will do things that are just good for him alone, but which negatively impact his family, and devastate his Party. The way he has handled succession in ZANU-PF is instructive.
More importantly he will ruin the country while satisfying his personal narcissistic needs, the aspirations of his family, and ambitions of his Party in that order. This framework - the Mugabe hierarchy of importance - explains all his activities and why the country is in such a mess. The success and welfare of the Zimbabwean citizens is the least of his concerns. This is clearly not enlightened, informed or intelligent leadership. It is the hallmark of unparalleled mediocrity and inordinate insecurity.
You also said he rather liked you. I'm thinking you aren't quite part of the mediocre crowd he feels comfortable around. Why, do you think, was he partial to you, even as you were leader of an opposition party?
He is an Anglophile, and a snob of sorts. The Oxford thing, the Rhodes Scholarship, and the education bit were factors. More importantly, while I was competent, highly principled and a no-nonsense straight shooter, he appreciated those qualities, strictly because I did NOT belong to his party. I had not gotten into government through his benevolence.
But how is a man so mediocre and insecure able to command loyalty from his party for 45 years. Indeed, how is such mediocrity able to maintain a grip on power for 37 years as the country's ruler?
He is an ardent practitioner of Machiavellian politics. He only read and continues to read one book: The Prince. The framework is: How do I pursue power, get power, and keep it; by any means necessary. Power is an end in itself, and NOT a public good. Mugabe is the personification, and an embodiment of, a crippling inordinate lust for power. He does not realize that actually Machiavelli wrote a second book called The Discourses, where he explained that The Prince, in addition to pursuing power, must also care about Legacy. Hence the grip on power can be explained by this Machiavellian streak.
Zimbabwe's economy has been in crisis for nearly two decades now. But your impression was that Mugabe is not interested in that side of his responsibilities as President.
As already explained, his motivation is primarily political, with a power retention strategy as the core ambition. Economic matters are secondary if not peripheral.
And his attitude to borrowing by the State? Apparently, he believes the country can borrow and borrow without paying its debts?
A reckless attitude indeed. He believes that since 'There is no country which has been closed because of bankruptcy' there is nothing to worry about.
Is he bereft of feeling; is he completely unaffected by the impact of the resultant economic problems on ordinary people?
The "Mugabe Hierarchy of Importance" alluded to earlier, explains this. The economic challenges experienced by ordinary people are at level FOUR in terms of importance.
His fixation is politics though, and political gamesmanship?
As explained earlier this fixation is driven by the views of Machiavelli as expounded in the book: The Prince. However, Mugabe's interpretation is a primitive understanding of the Machiavellian philosophy and strategy, as the later book the The Discourses refines the disposition to include legacy and positive socio-political and economic impact, as objectives of a Prince.
Looking ahead to next year's elections; you're not optimistic. You said 2008 devastated Mugabe so much that Zanu PF will rig him a victory next year?
Clearly, they will "not allow" the defeat of 2008 to occur. As we all know the 2008 first round result of 47.3% vs 42.3% outcome was "doctored" or rigged. Such an outcome will not be "allowed". ZANU-PF has to get at least 50% plus one vote, come hail, come sunshine. The humiliation in 2008 was severe, even after the rigging.
And the opposition have made it easier for Zanu PF to rig by failing to agree a coalition where they rally behind one candidate?
Unity has political mobilising impact. It energizes the entire electorate. With one United Coalition, change becomes palpable. This generates enthusiasm and confidence in those who want change across the country, including those who are not directly involved in opposition parties. Unity is not just about adding numbers of opposition votes. It is more than that. Now, by failing to establish One Coalition Group, the benefits I have outlined will not materialize. More, importantly the lack of unity in opposition forces gives ZANU-PF plausible rationale for the rigged outcome. "No, we did not rig. They lost because they were fragmented." There will be many takers for this explanation.
You also said the opposition is a disparate collection of contradictions united only by the desire to remove Mugabe and Zanu PF from power. Why can't that shared desire facilitate a coalition that backs one candidate against Mugabe?
First and foremost, that desire to remove Mugabe has not worked as glue in the pursuit of one giant coalition against ZANU-PF. I wish it did. They must keep trying. My view is that beyond the change agenda we must address the issue of the content, ideology and substance of the change.
Having failed to force implementation of reforms to facilitate a fair and credible contest, should the opposition contest next year's elections?
Yes, they must. Even if it means testing the systems, the laws, regulations and procedures; thus, exposing the rigging infrastructure. However, all this must be done under one giant Coalition, to make the rigging exercise tougher to implement and harder to explain away.
Your impressions on potential political leaders from ZANU-PF and those from opposition parties?
I leave that to their party members, and the electorate. I would rather concentrate on the big picture - the state of play, the contradictions and possibilities in the broader theatre of politics, the economy and social dynamics in our country, Zimbabwe.
And lastly, coming to you - have you taken permanent leave of Zimbabwean politics? How do you envision your role in the country's affairs presently, and going forward?
I have certainly NOT taken permanent leave of Zimbabwean politics. I keep my options open. I have just been concentrating on writing and documentation as part of the struggle, for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe.
Professor Mutambara Thank you very much for talking to us.