As the curtain falls on Robert Mugabe, OMONU NELSON writes on the life and demise of the ruler man who means many things to different people.
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, joined other world leaders to condole with the government and people of Zimbabwe over the death of the founding father and former president, Robert Mugabe, at 95.
The president, according to a statement by his special adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, in Abuja, yesterday, commiserated with family members, friends and political associates of the late political activist.
President Buhari noted that Mugabe fought for the independence of his country from colonial rule and lived most of his life in public service.
According to him, Mugabe's sacrifices, especially in the struggle for the political and economic emancipation of his people, will always be remembered by posterity.
He prayed that the Almighty God would grant the soul of the former president rest and comfort his loved ones.
World leaders took to the airwaves, yesterday, to eulogise the former Zimbabwean Strongman, Robert Mugabe, who joined the ages at the age of 95.
Mugabe's successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in announcing Mugabe's death, yesterday, praised Mugabe as an "icon of liberation." "His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace," he said.
Mugabe's death has continued to attract glowing tributes, particularly, from African leaders.
The United Kingdom prime minister, Boris Johnson's spokeswoman, has a different assessment of the life and times of Mugabe. She said, "There will be mixed emotions in Zimbabwe at today's news. We, of course, express our condolences to those who mourn but know that for many, he was a barrier to a better future. Under his rule, the people of Zimbabwe suffered greatly as he impoverished their country and sanctioned the use of violence against them.
"His resignation in 2017 marked a turning point and we hope that today marks another, which allows Zimbabwe to move on from the legacy of its past and become a democratic, prosperous nation that respects the human rights of its citizens," she added.
Analysts, however, said, the harsh verdict of UK on the life and times of Mugabe is not coming as a surprise because the UK campaigned vigorously for the strengthening of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, which crippled the country's economy. UK's grouse against Mugabe stems from his move to recover lands illegally acquired by colonial powers. Though experts believe the land reclamation policy of Mugabe was one of his ploys to firm his hold on power.
The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country was a staunch refuge for Mugabe's troubled Zimbabwe and once served as headquarters of the African National Congress (ANC) said,
"South Africans join the people and government of Zimbabwe in mourning the passing of a liberation fighter and champion of Africa's cause against colonialism.
"Under President Mugabe's leadership, Zimbabwe's sustained and valiant struggle against colonialism inspired our own struggle against apartheid and built-in us the hope that one day, South Africa too would be free.
"Many Zimbabweans paid with their lives so that we could be free. We will never forget or dishonour this sacrifice and solidarity," the president of the former apartheid enclave said.
A statement issued by China's foreign ministry described Mugabe as an outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe.
The statement reads in part; "Throughout his life, he firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation.
The Namibian President, Hage Geingob, whose country was in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa said, "As Namibians, we owe President Mugabe a deep sense of gratitude for his immense and selfless contributions to the liberation of our country ... The loss of the people of Zimbabwe is Africa's loss."
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, observed, "Many important events in contemporary history of Zimbabwe are linked with the name of Robert Mugabe. He made a major personal contribution to the struggle for your country's independence and to building institutions of Zimbabwean statehood.
"The people of Russia will remember him as a consistent advocate of developing friendly relations between our countries and a person who had accomplished a great deal to strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation, Putin said.
Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his own tribute, said, "In this moment of sorrow, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his relatives and the people of Zimbabwe who, for many years, he served with commitment and dedication.
"Words cannot convey the magnitude of the loss as former President Mugabe was an elder statesman, a freedom fighter and a Pan-Africanist, who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent.
"Indeed, we will remember former President Mugabe as a man of courage who was never afraid to fight for what he believed in even when it was not popular, Kenyatta said.
The fiery Tanzanian President, John Magufuli said, "Africa has lost one of its bravest and Pan-Africanist leaders, who led by example in opposing colonialism.
Zimbabwean Opposition, Senator and Rights Lawyer, David Coltart, in a tribute on his Twitter, handle "He was a colossus on the Zimbabwean stage & his enduring positive legacy will be his role in ending white minority rule & expanding quality education to all Zimbabweans.
The secretary-general, Botswana Democratic Party, Mpho Balopi said, Comrade Mugabe was one of Africa's most renowned freedom fighters and also one of the founding fathers of what is today known as SADC (the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community, which headquarter is in Botswana).
"The history of our respective parties' fraternal relations would be incomplete without mention of Uncle Bob, as he was affectionately known. It is beyond any doubt that he leaves an indelible mark on the politics of the region, Balopi opined.
Mugabe in brief
Born on 21 February, 1924, on a Roman Catholic mission near Harare, Mugabe was educated by Jesuit priests and worked as a primary school teacher before going to South Africa's University of Fort Hare, then a breeding ground for African nationalism.
Mugabe, who falls into the class of African Liberation veterans like Keneth Kaunda of Zimbabwe, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Hasting Kamusu Banda of Malawi, Kwame Nkrumah etc, is celebrated by many as representing the face African Freedom.
In the three-phase of Mugabe's life: protester, prisoner and president, he triumphed, while others believed his place in history is standing on its head in the court of public opinion because during his 37 years of leadership of the Southern African landlocked nation, Mugabe is adjudged by many to have contradicted his pre-independence liberation philosophy.
As a rebel who was frontal in the fight for Zimbabwe's independence, expectations were high, knowing his antecedents as the people's advocate, alas, the more Mugabe strives to fortify his hold on political power, the more he betrays his philosophy of self-determination.
With Mugabe in power for nearly four decades, many at home and abroad denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.
Mugabe, who died in Singapore aged 95, was ultimately ousted by his own armed forces in November 2017.
He demonstrated his tenacity - some might say stubbornness - to the last, refusing to accept his expulsion from his own ZANU-PF party and clinging on for a week until parliament started to impeach him after the de facto coup.
His resignation triggered wild celebrations across the country of 13 million. For Mugabe, it was an "unconstitutional and humiliating" act of betrayal by his party and people and left him a broken man.
Confined for the remaining years of his life between Singapore where he was receiving medical treatment and his sprawling "Blue Roof" mansion in Harare, an ailing Mugabe could only observe from afar the political stage where he once strode tall. He was bitter to the end over the manner of his exit.
On the eve of the July 2018 election, the first without him, he told reporters he would vote for the opposition, something unthinkable only a few months before.
Educated and urbane, Mugabe took power in 1980 after seven years of a liberation bush war and - until the army's takeover - was the only leader Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, knew since independence from Britain.
But as the economy imploded starting from 2000 and his mental and physical health waned, Mugabe found fewer people to trust as he seemingly smoothed a path to the succession for his wife Grace, four decades his junior and known to her critics as "Gucci Grace" for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping.
Entrance into politics
Returning to then-Rhodesia in 1960, he entered politics but was jailed for a decade four years later for opposing white rule. When his infant son died of malaria in Ghana in 1966, Mugabe was denied parole to attend the funeral, a decision by the government of white-minority leader Ian Smith that historians say played a part in explaining Mugabe's subsequent bitterness.
After his release, he rose to the top of the powerful Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, known as the "thinking man's guerrilla" on account of his seven degrees, three of them earned behind bars.
Later, as he crushed his political enemies, he boasted of another qualification: "a degree in violence". After the war ended in 1980, Mugabe was elected the nation's first black prime minister.
"You have inherited a jewel in Africa. Don't tarnish it," Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told him during the independence celebrations in Harare.
Initially, Mugabe offered forgiveness and reconciliation to old foreign and domestic adversaries, including Smith, who remained on his farm and continued to receive a government pension.
Early years in power
In his early years, he presided over a booming economy, spending money on roads and dams and expanding schooling for black Zimbabweans as part of a full scale dismantling of the racial discrimination of colonial days.
With black and white tension easing, by the mid-1980s many whites who had fled to Britain or South Africa, then still under the yoke of apartheid, were trying to come home.
In contrast, Mugabe inherited a viable, relatively broad-based economy that included substantial industrial and prosperous commercial agricultural sectors. Even though these were largely white controlled, there was far greater potential for development than in most other post-colonial African countries.
But, through massive corruption and mismanagement, his government threw that potential away. He also presided over a disastrous downward spiral of the economy, which saw both industry and commercial agriculture collapse. The economy has never recovered and remains in a state of acute and persistent crisis today.
On the political front, the rule of some leaders - like Milton Obote in Uganda and Siad Barre in Somalia - created so much conflict that coups and crises drove their countries into civil war. Zimbabwe under Mugabe was spared this fate - but perhaps only because the political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s was so brutalised after up to 30 000 people were killed, that they shrank from more conflict. Peace then was merely the absence of outright war.
Some leaders, notably Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, are still revered for their commitments to national independence and African unity. This is despite the fact that, domestically, their records were marked by failure. By 1966, when Nkrumah was displaced by a military coup, his one-party rule had become politically corrupt and repressive.
Despite this, Nyerere always retained his reputation for personal integrity and commitment to African development. Both Nkrumah's and Nyerere's ideas continue to inspire younger generations of political activists, while other post-independence leaders' names are largely forgotten.
A New Wife Ascends
According to New York Times, the electoral triumph was not the end of the story, however. In late 2014 Mr. Mugabe purged his governing party, replacing his vice president, Joice Majuru, with Mr. Mnangagwa, a hard-line loyalist, and elevating his second wife, Grace Mugabe, a former typist some four decades his junior, to high office in the party.
There were even suggestions that he sought to establish her as the head of a dynasty, or at least to assure her of a place in the eventual succession.
It was precisely that stratagem that brought his downfall. Grace Mugabe's maneuvers and ambitions unsettled the very people in the military and security elite who had backed Mr. Mugabe in return for a share of the spoils. The army officers who pushed him from office had once helped solidify his hold on it.
If his political instincts at home had finally deserted him, his grasp of continental diplomacy had not. To the annoyance of his adversaries at home and in the West, his stature across Africa seemed only to rise in his 90s, even as he grew frail and was given to mental lapses. (In one instance he read the same speech to Parliament twice.)
But it was not long before Mugabe began to suppress challengers, including liberation war rival Joshua Nkomo.
Faced with a revolt in the mid-1980s in the western province of Matabeleland that he blamed on Nkomo, Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained army units, provoking an international outcry over alleged atrocities against civilians.
Human rights groups say 20,000 people died, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe from which Nkomo's partisans were largely drawn. The discovery of mass graves prompted accusations of genocide.
After two terms as prime minister, Mugabe tightened his grip on power by changing the constitution, and he became president in 1987. His first wife, Sally, who had been seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.
A turning point came at the end of the decade when Mugabe, by now a leader unaccustomed to accommodating the will of the people, suffered his first major defeat at the hands of voters, in a referendum on another constitution. He blamed his loss on the white minority, chastising them as "enemies of Zimbabwe".
Days later, a groundswell of black anger at the slow pace of land reform started boiling over and gangs of black Zimbabweans calling themselves war veterans started to overrun white-owned farms.
Mugabe's response was uncompromising, labeling the invasions a correction of colonial injustices. "Perhaps we made a mistake by not finishing the war in the trenches," he said in 2000. "If the settlers had been defeated through the barrel of a gun, perhaps we would not be having the same problems."
The farm seizures helped ruin one of Africa's most dynamic economies, with a collapse in agricultural foreign exchange earnings unleashing hyperinflation.
The economy shrank by more than a third from 2000 to 2008, sending unemployment above 80 percent. Several million Zimbabweans fled, mostly to South Africa.
Brushing aside criticism, Mugabe portrayed himself as a radical African nationalist competing against racist and imperialist forces in Washington and London.
The country hit rock bottom in 2008, when 500 billion percent inflation drove people to support the challenge of Western-backed former union leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Facing defeat in a presidential run-off, Mugabe resorted to violence, forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw after scores of his supporters were killed by ZANU-PF thugs.
South Africa, Zimbabwe's neighbour to the south, squeezed the pair into a fractious unity coalition but the compromise belied Mugabe's grip on power through his continued control of the army, police and secret service.
As old age crept in and rumours of cancer intensified, his animosity toward Tsvangirai eased and the two men enjoyed weekly meetings over tea and scones, in a nod to Mugabe's affection for British traditions.