When Robert Mugabe turned 85 on February 21, 2009, he was officially the world’s oldest leader. A huge party was thrown in his honour, where a hundred cows were slaughtered. Out in the street a banner read: ‘age is nothing but a number.’
After years of solid discipline as a Jesuit student, a Marxist, and a guerrilla leader, Mugabe was in very good shape physically. There was a hint of weakness in his steps though, but he tried to hide it well. This octogenarian was showing no sign of slowing down – it was to take many more years, and a military coup, for time to reassert its invincibility.
When a journalist requested Mugabe to speak, Mugabe was expected to go into his customary tirades against Britain, and he didn’t disappoint: he announced that even as a ghost he would not allow Zimbabwe to be an extension of Britain!
Britain had left Zimbabwe in 1965, after Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence. Mugabe and his ZANU colleagues carried out an insurgency which ended the white minority’s rule by April 1980. However, the ghosts of white men never strayed far from Mugabe – they continued to haunt him till his death in 2019.
By early 2009, Zimbabwe was in tatters – decades of Mugabe’s misrule were having a great toll on Zimbabwe. This was a far cry from the country of the 1980s which was an envy to many of its southern African’s neighbours.
The Mugabe that took power had a hint of pragmatism. On the day of independence he declared that ‘an evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.’ With such a conciliatory tone he opened up the decade of boundless hope for Zimbabweans, black or white.
And the people responded with great enthusiasm, especially in their embrace of education: Eight new schools were built every week. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of primary and secondary schools, from 1,800 to 4,500, and from 200 to 1,500, respectively.
As a result, more and more black students had the opportunity to join university, with numbers increasing 330 times in a few years!
Similarly, agriculture also performed admirably. Over 50,000 households were given lands to farm and a decade later, they had doubled their incomes. Production of maize increased 11 times in 5 years. Such is the kind of performance that made Zimbabwe a food basket for the southern African region.
But by late-2008, the wheels had come off: the economy was in free fall – in ten years, GDP had declined from $10 billion to $2 billion, inflation was exceedingly high, people’s savings were wiped off, the seizures of farms from white farmers left hundreds of thousands of people without jobs, and up to four million Zimbabweans had left the country.
Mugabe’s friends and foes
The outside world was divided in its outlook towards Zimbabwe. There was South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, a mediator from SADC who never criticised Mugabe, at least not in public.
There were Presidents such as Levy Mwanawasa and Jakaya Kikwete who broke ranks and voiced their misgivings. There were Mugabe’s friends in the east, North Korea and China, who offered him a way out from western ‘persecution.’
And there were those who were crossing their fingers to see how long it would take for a popular uprising to throw Mugabe out of power.
But on February 21, 2009, the invited guests seemed completely oblivious of what was happening in their country as they feasted themselves from what was remaining of the once great Zimbabwe nation.
Close to where Mugabe was seated was a man called Joseph Mwale, the man who had trapped two MDC members and burned them alive during the 2000 elections. There was a warrant for his arrest issued by the High Court, yet – while the police were saying they couldn’t find him, Joseph did not even bother to hide from the public.
He ended up dying seven years later from natural causes – a free man! Such was the level of impunity that existed in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s six-step guide to ruining a nation
How do you take a very promising nation to this point? Following Mugabe’s guide, here are five steps that will ensure that every nation is ruined in the shortest time possible:
One, co-opt the police, the military, the parliament, and the judiciary into politics. Make sure that all appointments are as undeserving of the posts as possible so that the occupants know that they owe those positions to you and you alone. Excoriate all those who pretend to follow professional standards. Finally, make sure that the rewards system is based on the safeguarding of your interests and your interests alone.
Two, nurture a culture of violence. Mercilessly unleash the security apparatuses against all those who stand in your way. If they want to protest, put them down. When they are retreating and hope for things to cool down, don’t grant them that luxury. Hunt them down – destroy their properties and take them out if possible. It is more efficient to use mercenary groups – do not miss an opportunity to be truly authoritarian.
Three, make up your laws of economics, and follow them religiously. So, what if Samora Machel had warned you that the exodus of whites would lead to an economic collapse as it did in his country? Ignore that bullshit. Send your mobs to seize their farms, torch their properties, disperse hundreds of thousands of their workers – then distribute the spoils for your own – starting with generals, judges, and senior party and government officials. Then allow nature to do its thing – as farms turn into bushes.
Four, never ever respect the rule of law. So, what if you lose an election? Change results, announce yourself as a winner, or even repeat the election. Then send thugs to beat, mutilate, and kill hundreds of members of the opposition. God willing, they will boycott the next election and you can win by over 90 per cent. Don’t lose any sleep about that.
Five, project all your failures on outsiders. So, the British reneged on their promise to fund the farms’ buyback program? Torch the farms. You sent your military to an ill-thought out expedition in DRC? Tough luck. Or you borrowed money and was forced to restructured your operations? How dare they do that to you, a sovereign nation? Maintain a perpetual infantile status – only imperialists can choose. You are a victim, not a culprit.
Finally, if you really want to make sure that you do not fail – have your own Mugabe in power. Make sure that he is willing to do everything to stay in power. Make sure that he does not care about compromises – it is his way or the highway. Make sure that he truly believes that he – and his party – have a God-given right to rule the nation forever.
To get a good Mugabe, don’t choose a good leader and try to make him bad, that will not have the intended effect. Choose a megalomaniacal and psychopathic individual – an undeniably bad leader and make him worse by removing all restraints on his exercise of power!
That is how you get results.
Charles Makakala is a technology and management consultant based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He is available through firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.