By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been in power without let for 35 years, going on to 36 years in April 2016. My theory or hypothesis is that he has been in power that long because of the original sin of the first generation leaders.
When Mugabe came to power in April 1980, he looked around and was amused and fortified in his resolve to stay in power for as long as possible. All the first generation leaders who came to power in the early 1960s and who had not been overthrown by military coups or died in office were still in power. These regimes had declared one party state dictatorships under all manners of justifications and excuses.
To the north there was President Kaunda, to the west there was Seretse Khama’s dominant one tribe-cum democracy, to the North east was Kamuzu Banda’s one party iron rule.
To the south there was the apartheid criminal state under revolving one party white rule of the Nationalist Party. Swaziland and Lesotho rulership was supposedly ordained by God bestowing Monarchical rulership forever.
Samora Machel in Mozambique and Augustino Neto and Dos Santos in Angola had just defeated imperialism and Mugabe could see that these regimes had no design of giving up power. Mobutu in Zaire/Congo had been installed by the West after the western instigated murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and Mobutu was going nowhere.
Over there in Congo Brazzaville was Nguesso, in Equatorial Guinea was Marcias Nguema, in Central African Republic was Self crowned Emperor Bokasa.
In East Africa friendly and very decent chap Julius Nyerere had been ruling since 1963.
Over in Kenya Dictator Jomo Kenyatta had just died in 1978. This kept Mugabe thinking, “it is better to simply rule until one dies in office”. Later Mugabe started saying that “Zimbabwe Is Mine”. Afterall the leader Mugabe had replaced, Ian Smith had been ruling since 1965 and had declared that there would be no black rule for A thousand years until he had to be removed by a combination of guerrilla warfare and diplomatic intervention of many countries. The Portuguese had to be thrown out through guerrilla warfare too. So staying in power permanently was not the monopoly of Africans.
Mugabe recognized as well that western powers were hypocrites and would not provide good examples of democracy. They had ruled Africa dictatorially and criminally for 100 years and in most countries they had to be removed through a combination of rebellion, strikes, pressure, diplomacy and guerrilla warfare. In many countries they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity like in Kenya, Algeria, Congo, Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere.
There is no country in Africa whereby the colonialists did not commit crimes on a large scale.
The colonialists and other western powers that had no colonies in Africa, supported Apartheid South Africa, white minority rule in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia and in Portuguese colonies. When they participated in the transition-to-power negotiations, they imposed white minority-friendly constitutions in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, as they had done in the rest of Africa. Those constitutions favoured the continuation of white privileges.
Mugabe could see also that if the western countries didn’t like the policies of an African leader, they gave themselves the right to overthrow that leader like they did to Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana. Milton Obote in Uganda was also a perfect example of this. Both Nkrumah and Obote were determined to continue staying in power but Mugabe could see that it was not the business of western countries to dictate who Africans should be ruled by. The west were not true supporters of democracy.
Mugabe cast his eyes along the coast of West Africa. Ahidjo in Cameroun was still in power, there were military dictators in all the rest of the west coast except in Ivory Coast where Houphety Boigny and Senegal where Senghor had been ruling since the early sixties. There was also Jawara in Gambia and Siaka Stevens in Sierra Leone. Tolbert in Liberia had just been overthrown.
Thus Mugabe found an environment which was not conducive to democratic imperatives whatsoever. Even if he had good democratic predilections when he achieved power, he began to interact with leaders throughout Africa who had not given up power themselves or had obtained power by force or as a gift from God. He could not even look to the west where democratic hypocrisy was the order of the day. China and the Soviet Union could only be looked at with envy, they had permanent one party state dictatorships without any threats of military coups though nationalism was just below the surface in the Soviet Union and the Eastern block and the explosion would come several years later.
Museveni in Uganda forced his way into power in 1986 by force and found the same environment as Mugabe. He is still in power by force 29 years later and continuing. Kagame in Rwanda has just borrowed a leaf from Museveni with whom he worked in both the bush and in Uganda for several years before coming to power in 1994.
The first generation leaders had some excellent redeeming qualities like nationalism, patriotism, vision and less corruption. But there was this grave deficit of the original sin of staying in power too long by undemocratic means and whose sour fruits we are still harvesting through the likes of Mugabe, Museveni, Kagame and others.
Let the new generation be free from imbibing from the poisoned fruit of the first generation leaders.
Since the transition to multiparty democracy in Africa in the 1990s, Zambia is one of the leading examples of nurturing democratic changes in government by truly different parties with minimal violence. There should not even be one instance of violence in Zambia. We should be proud of this legacy and let no one disturb this shining example of nurturing democracy by importing violence and behaviour unbecoming a Zambian. We owe this to those who fought for our freedom and to our children and their future. Let’s leave this country a better place than we found it, as per Nelson Mandela’s wisdom.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa practiced law in Canada for 25 years.