Skip to comments.The Fall of the House of Mugabe (Zimbabwe)
Posted on 04/19/2010 8:14:51 AM PDT by greyfoxx39
Greetings in the name of freedom, proclaimed the newly minted prime minster, Robert Mugabe, during Zimbabwes independence celebration in 1980. His words marked one of the most brilliant transitions of power in recent history, as the last conflict of the post-colonial retreat faded into history. The white rulers of the renegade Rhodesia had ceded power to African nationalists, after assurances by British mediators that free markets and democracy would be preserved.
So in the fashion of a true capitalistic democracy, it is said that the first words uttered in the new Zimbabwe were, Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers. The reggae band, which scribed the nationalist coda Zimbabwe, had traveled to the capital of Salisbury to help usher in a new epoch of African optimism. But amidst all the music and celebrations came a sobering moment, in the form of prudent advice from a most unlikely source: President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Pulling Mugabe aside shortly after the independence celebrations, Nyerere delivered an ominous warning and powerful plea for good governance.
At the time, Nyereres warning may have seemed overly cautious. Though Africas post-colonial era had not gone well (war and genocide were common), the breakaway republic of Rhodesia was the one nation that had managed to resist the tide of anarchy sweeping the sub-Saharan region, all while weathering its own fierce internal conflict. Though marred by its discriminatory policies, Rhodesia was a shining beacon of prosperity in an otherwise dark continent. It was, by all accounts, an island of class and civilization awkwardly situated in the heart of the third world. Unemployment hovered around 5 percent. Health services were on par with the United States and Western Europe. The crime rate ranked among the lowest on the planet. A universal education system, along with modern highways and a magnificent network of railroads and telephone lines, stimulated an economy asphyxiated by UN sanctions and a violent internal conflict to rival those of Singapore and South Korea. Africans, denied voting rights but free of South African style apartheid, were fully incorporated into Rhodesias civil services; while many others were successful business owners, educators, doctors, and lawyers. When Robert Mugabe inherited the nation on April 18, 1980, he was also heir to a treasure that existed nowhere else on the continent: a boisterous African middle class.
Mugabes tenure during that first decade was almost flawless. Though a keen student of Maoist economic and revolutionary philosophies, he sagely kept government out of the new Zimbabwes three most profitable industries: massive, modern commercial farms which produced enough foodstuffs to feed roughly half of Africa, rich deposits of gold, chrome, copper, and other bulging veins of mineral wealth, and a tourism industry that included yawing game reserves and the thundering Victoria Falls. Mugabe retained experienced Europeans to run his military, banks, and courts, and was able to open the fledgling nation to an army of eager foreign investors. With foreign capital pouring in, he used that wealth to invest in Zimbabwes future. He built schools and hospitals, while aggressively pumping money into the national infrastructure. When the British-mandated Lancaster House Agreement between the Rhodesian government and Mugabes nationalist faction ended in 1987, Zimbabwe looked more like Europe than Africa.
It is argued that Zimbabwes disintegration came as a result of the first real challenge to Mugabes political authority in 1999, when the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change ran a successful, disciplined campaign against his 20 year incumbent party, ZANU-PF. When elections came in 2000, the MDC gained nearly 50 percent of Zimbabwes parliamentary seats, despite widespread accounts of vote-rigging and voter intimidation by the government. Mugabe reacted violently to what he saw as an unforgivable betrayal. His legacy of judicious post-colonial leadership had already been somewhat placated by Nelson Mandelas election in 1994, so as the story goes -- the MDCs electoral triumph came as the final, irreversible blow to Mugabes pride. Crackdowns against MDC campaign offices soon followed, which were both extensive and malicious. Dissent was scrupulously suppressed by Zimbabwes well-trained police, army, and intelligence services. Worst of all, Mugabe targeted the MDCs financial lifeline: the commercial farming industry, which also powered Zimbabwes economy and employed hundreds of thousands of workers. This was Mugabes first direct assault on Zimbabwes whites, who 20 years later were still the dominant custodians of the nations economy. It marked the first time that Zimbabweans and the international community began widely referring to Mugabe as a dictator, with both left wondering what had gone so terribly wrong.
That good leader gone bad narrative is often used by Western leaders who helped push Mugabe into power, and it is popularly disseminated in the press. President Jimmy Carter still refuses to acknowledge that he blundered by forcefully supporting Mugabe, an intractable attitude mimicked by some senior British leaders -- the same officials who deliberately ignored hundreds of reports of endemic voter intimidation by ZANU guerillas prior to the 1980 election.
A careful reading of Zimbabwes short history disproves this account. In reality, Mugabe never truly strayed from his roots as a zealous Maoist disciple. As early as 1982, barely 18 months into office, Mugabe oversaw a brutal, mechanical genocide in Zimbabwes southern province of Matabeleland. Unleashing a brigade specially trained in North Korea for internal suppression, Mugabe resorted to pre-colonial tribal warfare killing thousands of Matabele, a historical enemy of his Shona tribe. Mugabe had already earned a reputation as a brutal thug, as his guerilla warfare tactics were drawn directly from Maos sadistic school of revolutionary thought. Though educated by Jesuit priests, he was just as comfortable killing Christian missionaries as he was Rhodesian security forces.
Politically, he was equally ruthless. Despite the impressive success of an ethnically diverse Parliament -- 20 seats were reserved for Europeans under the Lancaster House Agreement -- Mugabe eliminated the interracial lawmaking body as soon as the pact expired in 1987, wasting no time in elevating his title from prime minister to president. From there, he slowly terminated his practice of placing skilled Europeans in essential banking and judicial positions, effectively elbowing out internal dissent and fully solidifying his power over all aspects of Zimbabwean life. By the late 1990s, government bureaucracy ballooned to nearly unsustainable levels, as Mugabe cemented total authority by appointing cronies to administrative postings that sprouted up in numbers that seemed to rival the nations crop yields. Supplementary currency was printed to support lavish indulgences for ZANU Party members, who were easily recognizable in their expensive British suits and Mercedes-Benz sedans. By the time the MDC challenged ZANU in 1999, Mugabes ruinous socialist policies had set the perfect conditions for a reformist campaign.
After MDCs victory in 2000, Mugabes swift retaliation against his own people earned him a reputation as one of the worlds worst tyrants. In Operation Murambatsvina Shona for "drive out the rubbish" -- Mugabe bulldozed through the nations slums and shantytowns, displacing over 700,000 impoverished Zimbabweans. ZANU officials claimed Murambatsvina was designed to clean up Zimbabwes once pristine cities, but this was widely recognized to be political top cover. Urban slums were critical MDC strongholds. Mugabe believed that by destroying the oppositions center of gravity, he would paralyze political dissent.
This ill-conceived strategy is what led to the seizure of Zimbabwes highly productive commercial farms, most of which had been purchased legally by European settlers after the transfer of power. Invoking his old anti-colonialist rhetoric, he booted the white invaders off their farms, replacing them with political stooges who had zero agricultural experience. Hardest hit were the hundreds of thousands of black African workers who suddenly found themselves both jobless and homeless (many commercial farmers provided housing, health care, education, and meals for their laborers). When the economy predictably tanked as a result, Mugabe promptly exacerbated the problem by imposing price caps on basic commodities and printing even more money. Inflation went from problematic to historic; by 2008 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe was printing billion dollar notes, and long queues of people stood in line with baskets full of bills simply to purchase a loaf of bread. Unemployment skyrocketed to 95 percent, while the once vibrant health care system collapsed, leaving the nation defenseless against rampant HIV infections and later when the government could no longer afford to treat the water supply -- cholera.
Life expectancy plunged from 68 for an African male during the Rhodesian era to an inconceivable 37 by 2009. Zimbabwes economic growth had dabbled in the double digits in the 1980s; by 2008 it was contracting at -14 percent. A full 70 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, and upwards of 3 million native Zimbabweans have fled the nation for South Africa, Europe, and the United States (most of these people once made up Zimbabwe's educated middle class).
In five short years, five decades worth of economic growth and development were completely unraveled. During his revolutionary days, Mugabe often talked about how he would turn Rhodesia into an archetypal Maoist state. In this, he succeeded, as Zimbabwe is now the picture-perfect example of what ill-conceived socialist policies can do to even the sturdiest of free-market economies.
As the 2008 elections rolled around, the MDC tried again, though in vain, to dislodge ZANU from power. Despite massive voter turnout and a clear MDC victory, Mugabe was able to retain control through his 3 decade old technique of violence, intimidation, and ballot stuffing. After international pressure and sanctions, coupled with a cholera epidemic, forced his hand later that year, he begrudgingly entered into a South African mediated power sharing agreement with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who later assumed the role of prime minister while Mugabe stayed on as president.
Little has changed. Mugabe recently announced a plan to force all foreign corporations to turn over half their stock to ZANU (which was defeated by Tsvangirai in the MDCs first real victory since entering into the power-sharing pact), and farm seizures continue unabated.
Perhaps most concerning is the distinct sense of hopelessness which inundated the once thriving country. Despite the power-sharing agreement with the MDC, none of the problematic social, economic, or political conditions which set the stage for Zimbabwes collapsed have been repaired. Zimbabwes future seems just as bleak as its past. And Mugabe -- bafflingly immune to his nations despair -- is as obstinate as ever, recently declaring his intention to run again for president in 2013, an election which should occur shortly after his 89 birthday.
Mugabe may have greeted his people in the name of freedom during independence, but his reign has been nothing short of pure totalitarianism. Though he managed to successfully end the Rhodesian era, Robert Mugabe has yet to deliver on his promise to emancipate his African brethren. Instead, Zimbabweans filled with hope and optimism in 1980 -- have swapped out one form of tyranny for another.
April 18, 2010 marks the 30 year celebration of independence from colonial rule. Unfortunately, the Zimbabwean people have little to celebrate. While Julius Nyreres warning to Mugabe seemed overly cautious in 1980, today it is pure prescience: You have inherited the jewel of Africa, said Nyerere. Keep it that way.
Thanks for this post.
Sounds terrifyingly familiar. Say one thing while doing another. These ideologues never stray from their original design.
“...Mugabe often talked about how he would turn Rhodesia into an archetypal Maoist state...”
He has succeeded. Zimbabwe now looks exactly like N. Korea, Albania, etc...
Obamugabe is copying his efforts...........
I will now begin to refer to him as Obamugabe and still refusing to ever use his given surname.
a keen student of Maoist economic and revolutionary philosophies
Thanks for posting this.
The original impetus for the massacres In Matebeleland was the disappearance of a group of tourists. Most likely they were killed by a rival faction of guerillas still in the bush, either as highwaymen, or in an effort to embarrass the government.
The Fifth brigade was sent in to find the tourists, and they instigated the massacres.
I can attest to the severe lowering of life expectancy there since I left 25 years ago.
Only a handful of the people that I knew then are still alive, yet they were mostly in their 20s and 30s, and some were children.
A majority likely died of AIDS, but cholera and other diseases of opportunuity killed others.
The country 25-30 years ago was truly a jewel.