Africa Watch

Mugabe-departure: Quo Vadis Africa?

Mugabe's SONA.jpg

Now ex-President Robert Mugabe’s desperately efforts at age 93 to stay in power in Zimbabwe once again brought home the truth that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It triggers some interesting, and important questions. For one, why are some heads of state, so fixated with power and willing to do just about anything possible to stay in power, even at the possible cost of their lives and those close to them?


For Mugabe 37 years in power was not enough, his desperation to stay in control illustrated by a Mail & Guardian article reporting that he, ironically, even offered to send his unpopular wife Grace (“Gucci”), and the final trigger of his downfall, into exile in a foreign country in exchange for retaining power.

One can only but speculate about former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda’s role in convincing Mugabe to adhere to a promise he made years ago, that he would leave immediately when the people no longer loved him. The people of Zimbabwe gave Mugabe their answer plainly in their support of the military’s intervention and the enthusiasm with which Mnangagwa’s inauguration as interim president was celebrated.


Kaunda, now also 93, set an example in Africa when he re-introduced a multiparty system, and peacefully stepped down after losing elections after 27 years in power in Zambia. Like Mugabe, he also led his country to independence, and had the moral authority to do so when asked to talk to Mugabe. It is probably not accidental that Mugabe agreed to resign soon after Kaunda paid him a visit.  

Not everyone elected in Africa to the highest office in the land becomes addicted to the power coming with it, as demonstrated by Botswana’s president Ian Khama. As the only serving head of state in Southern Africa with the courage to tell Mugabe in public that it was time to go Khama, said: “I don’t think anyone should be president for that amount of time. We are presidents,we are not monarchs”.   

Ian Khama is stepping down as president in April 2018 after serving the two five-year terms allowed by Botswana’s constitution. 

In a recent Sunday Times article “What South Africa can learn from Mugabe’s ruin,” the author mentions Tanzania’s first head of state after independence, Julius Nyrere, who decided to leave office before his term transpired because, as Nyrere explained, he “was afraid of power.” 

He later returned to serve three more five-year terms but never abused his power at a time when it was rather the norm in Africa.

Nelson Mandela is another name that comes to mind. He stepped down after one term in office, begging the question: Could South Africa have been spared the calamity of the current Zuma presidency had Mandela listened to pleas to serve a second term?  

A long way to go

 A man who could play a prominent role, if allowed, in Zimbabwe’s future is former finance minister Tendai Biti. With first-hand experience as finance minister in the so-called Government of National Unity, of the devastating effect Mugabe’s rule had on the economy. He succeeded, against all odds, to improve Zimbabwe’s imploding economy.

Biti, obviously with Mugabe and Africa’s history in mind, observed at Daily Maverick’s ‘The Gathering’ event: “We don't do well with passing the baton stick.”

Elaborating on Biti’s remark, and partly answering the question on why heads of state so often becomes obsessed with power, the Japanese political scientist Ken Yamamoto, referring to events in Zimbabwe wrote: “It’s really a matter of luck, grace, and opportunity when one is chosen by the people as leader. It’s not really a matter of destiny. Rather it’s an opportunity to serve. But then, servant leadership is a very tricky concept in many African countries.

“What I have concluded is that most African leaders seem to think that when they become leaders … it’s become their destiny, and it is that misleading notion that stops them from appreciating the reality that leaders must come and go. This is true not only of Zimbabwe, but many other countries, like South Africa, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, DRC and Cameroon”.

Renewed vigor

Expect attention to now shift from Zimbabwe to other African countries also straining and laboring under long serving heads of state.

During what became known as the 2011 Arab Spring, the long serving, extremely corrupt and oppressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia were largely peacefully toppled. However, the uprising in Libya against four decades of Gadaffi rule became a civil war with international intervention.

The mass public protests and demonstrations toppling North Africa’s autocratic regimes did not spread elsewhere in Africa where conditions seemed ripe for it. 

The unexpected ease with which Mugabe’s seemingly impregnable fortress was demolished could, however, rejuvenate the demand for regime change and spur the public and civil society on to embark on mass action to force concessions and/or  abdication from other long serving African heads of state.

In Togo, hundreds of thousands of protesters have already taken to the streets earlier this year, seeking the end to half a century long family rule of President Eyadéma. Events in Zimbabwe have revived the demand for change – an opposition leader quoted expressing hope “for a Zimbabwean-type change of power”.

Renewed pressure is also expected in the DRC where Joseph Kabila, who replaced his father in 2001 – already came under pressure to resolve the lock jam caused by him, preventing elections, including for his replacement after his term has constitutionally already transpired.

Mugabe’s departure will unsettle Africa’s remaining long serving heads of state. More draconian measures to suppress opposition can be expected.

One of the first to react, but trying a different approach, was Uganda’s president Museveni, another former liberation struggle hero in power for more than three decades. He is under pressure and his popularity is plummeting. After the Mugabe-events Museveni, in panic, did what others in similar positions have often attempted, try to buy time and support by promising pay hikes to the civil servants and the military. His problem, however, is Uganda’s economy – it can ill afford the increases.

Winds of change

It will be interesting to see how Africa’s other long serving heads of state respond. Writing in Daily Maverick, Stephen Grootes wrote that,” What is important from Zimbabwe is the lesson it gives in how quickly the political winds can change. Only two weeks ago members of Zanu-PF were cheering the expulsion of Emmerson Mnangagwa from the party and now they are cheering the expulsion of Robert and Grace Mugabe”.

On a 1960-visit to South Africa then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, famously told the then whites only parliament that “the wind of change is blowing over Africa”.

The same wind seems to be still blowing. If it keeps on a southward trajectory from Zimbabwe, it could perhaps also topple another disastrous president before the year’s end.

To tell us what you think, click HERE

by Garth Cilliers

Follow us on Twitter | Like us on Facebook
comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to the newsletter

Final Word

Final Word

IntelligenceBul Final Word Confusing world of sluts, gays and lesbians 0 years - reply - retweet - favorite

IntelligenceBul Let's Think Will Zuma admit that he is a “shady man”? 0 years - reply - retweet - favorite

IntelligenceBul Propery & Wealth Home-grown financial solution for a truly South African dilemma 0 years - reply - retweet - favorite