Africa: Mugabe, Like Mobutu and Gaddafi, Clung On Knowing He Had to Go

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, DR Congo's Joseph Kabila, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, Congo Brazzaville's President Dennis Sassou-Nguesso, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Cameroon's Paul Biya.
22 November 2017

There are five lessons to be gleaned from Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe's meltdown.

One, nothing lasts forever. Not even Mugabe himself, who once said "not even God" could remove him from the Zimbabwean presidency.

Two, "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Three, the lesson of history," the great German philosopher Georg Hegel once said "is that they are no lessons to be learned in history."

Four, political longevity is not equal to indispensability. Lastly, state and political power are not sexually transmitted.

The aphorism on power tends to corrupt absolutely, by the great Lord John Dalberg-Acton, the "Catholic" historian has over the centuries captured the dilemma that ensnares great leaders, once they begin having a "love affair" with power. It becomes intoxicating.

Lord Acton must have known: he was himself a MP and later served in the House of Lords. He would later also observe that great men always end up being bad men, because of being seduced by political power.

Robert Mugabe was no doubt a great leader: intelligent, sharp-witted and wily as a fox, his liberation credentials completed his greatness. But once he assumed the mantle of Zimbabwean leadership in 1980, first as Prime Minister and then as an executive president, power become his intoxicating aphrodisiac.

He could not do without it. Over time, he came to believe he was the alpha and omega, of Zimbabwe and in Zimbabwe. This catastrophic, ignominious self-love consumed him so much in his 37 years of despotism and imperial presidency that he could not truly comprehend any other Zimbabwean not loving him.

In essence, he lived in a huge presidential palace buffeted by illusions of grandeur. These illusions drove him to imagine he was indispensable and irreplaceable. It was merely a matter of time before he transformed himself into a tragic figure.


Other African leaders have been where he now finds himself and two names come to mind: Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Zabanga and Col Muammar Gaddafi.

For 32 years from 1965-1997, Mobutu bestrode the mighty Zaire like a leviathan, beguiling Zaireans with his presidential, despotic antics. By the 1990s, his time was up, but like a man who believed he was indestructible just like the mighty Congo River, he refused to read the sign of the times.

When Mobutu was deposed in 1997 by Laurent Kabila's forces marching from eastern Congo, he escaped to Morocco. In September, of the same year, he died in Rabat, Morocco's capital, but not before cutting a forlorn figure, far removed from once the grand maître of Zaire, now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Colonel Gaddafi, the flamboyant "desert king" in his flowing robes, ruled the great Libya Jamahiriya Republic for 42 years: from 1969 to 2011. On October 20, 2011 (Mashujaa Day in Kenya), Muammar Gaddafi was hounded out of Libya like a dog -literally.

Captured by rebel forces in the Battle of Sirte, his birth place and hometown, he was stabbed in the back by a bayonet in the gutter where he lay hidden. For eight months, Col Gaddafi had the chance to run away, or negotiate if he wanted to with the marching rebels, but he in his great self-love believed he was unconquerable.

As these two African leaders' tragic fates show, the lessons of history are hard for African tin-pot dictators to grasp. They never seem to learn: not now, not in the future.


Mugabe's political foibles did not begin now. As a cunning fox, he knew time was not on his side and it was just a matter of time before political forces within and without ZANU-PF zeroed in on him.

But he procrastinated, believing in his delusional imagination of the great love Zimbabweans had for him. Once, when a foreign journalist asked him whether he was planning to step down, he riposted with his trademark witticism: "But where are the Zimbabweans going?"

In his heyday, he fought verbal wars with western European leaders, most famously with Tony Blair, the Labour leader who was Britain's prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Coining the sobriquet "Bliar" and other choice epithets, and describing him as the modern-day Cecil Rhodes, many African were enchanted with Mugabe, who had the gall to tell off an influential western leader.

Because of this political machismo, Mugabe was surreptitiously adored across Africa by academics, scholars and journalists, and even by some African presidents because of his standing up to Blair. Many African leaders, invariably, are too scared to take the leaders of their former colonial masters.

But telling off a powerful western leader is one thing: overseeing a crumbling economy, partly because of your own gross policy errors and, then wholly blaming the same western leaders for your own failures, is quite another.

The economy, battered by uncontrollable inflation, went south - literally and figuratively. Zimbabweans similarly went South in droves, escaping from the political-economy chaos created by an unrelenting leader.


As Mugabe grew old - in age and in politics - he become increasingly paranoid, as all despotic leaders are bound to. With his senility, he became reliant on a coterie of sycophants, a host of praise-singers and close knit family members such as his wife Grace Marufu and nephew Patrick Zhuwao.

One of his more infamous sycophants was Prof Jonathan Moyo, the one-time powerful Minister of Information, irrefutably remembered by Zimbabwean journalists as the minister who introduced draconian media laws that criminalised the very essence of factual reporting on ZANU-PF and the mighty King Bob.

Kenyans will remember Prof Moyo as the Nairobi-based Program Officer of the Ford Foundation, Eastern Africa region, in the mid-to-late 1990s, who with another infamous Kenyan, Mutahi G. Ngunyi, of the tyranny of numbers infamy, as the duo who were accused by the foundation of defrauding it of millions of dollars of donor funding.

One of Prof Moyo's favourite nyama choma spots in Nairobi was the Sagret Hotel Equatorial, on the junction of Ralph Bunche Road and Jakaya Kikwete Road in Milimani.

Prof Moyo, who has been the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education had strategically assumed the role of First Lady "Gaga" Grace Marufu Mugabe's political mentor and tutor. On the corridors of power in Harare, Prof Moyo was known as the power behind the now-disgraced Grace.


Revelling in her new title as Dr Amai Grace Mugabe, she told Zimbabweans on November 8, 2017 that "leaders are ordained by God". In the presence of her husband, President Mugabe at the revolutionary party headquarters she told him: "You were ordained President Mugabe. Hail thee."

Quoting the Bible, she told the crowd the scriptures commands people to ask for serenity and wisdom on things one cannot change. One of the things Zimbabweans were presumably being schooled on not changing was the inimitable Robert Mugabe.

Prof Moyo's ultimate goal was to be president himself - it was whispered to me from my sources at the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare. His elaborate plan was to have propped up the First Lady, ensuring that he paved the way for her, all the way to the presidential palace. Once she was president, Prof Moyo, the schemer par excellence would initiate a project to pull her down, apparently because of her disgraceful incompetence.

Prof Moyo, who was accused by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) in 2016 of allegedly misappropriating money from Zimbabwe Manpower Development (ZimDef), in his "devious" schemes was to be helped by the likes of Saviour Kasukuwere, the political commissar and member of the G40 faction.

The Generation 40 is a faction within ZANU-PF that was created to champion Grace's trajectory to the presidency, by fighting another factions, Team Lacoste, that was backing the sacked Vice President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, now promoted to ZANU-PF president.


Lacoste is a French fashion brand that features a crocodile in its logo, and ED, as Mnangagwa is popularly known, is himself nicknamed "Ngwena", Shona for 'the crocodile'.

ED took the battle to the G40's doorstep. Certainly, with the support of the military's top echelons and the War Veterans Association, led by the bombastic Chris Mutsvangwa, ED, 75, was one of Mugabe's most loyal men for 40 years, from the liberation days in the early 1970s.

But as he has come to learn recently, blind loyalty or servitude to a political leader never guarantees reward or automatic succession. In fact, it can cost your life.

Yet ED must have known all this. He replaced Joice Mujuru as VP in 2014 after she was also hounded out by Mugabe's wife, praise singers and sycophants. Mujuru went on to form the Zimbabwe People First political party.

Hoping to create a dynasty, Mugabe, through the devious machinations of his conniving wife, unwittingly believed he could pass on the presidential baton to his wife through marital liaison.

On top of his game for close to four decades, his luck ran out on Wednesday November 15, 2017, when General Constantine Chiwenga, the military commander called his timeout.

Sadly, for Mugabe, as he will soon realise, he will be lonely without Mnangagwa.

Dauti Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti

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