What is it about dictatorship that those who practice it are almost always driven out ignominously without any dignity left?
This Wednesday there was this sorry and humiliating sight of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lying on a stretcher behind heavy steel bars in the dock facing trial jointly with his two sons, former Interior minister and several senior officials of his regime for corruption and ordering the killing of hundreds of anti-government demonstrators before he was eventually forced to step down by the tide of mass protests early this year.
Must it get to that?
Despite his condition and advanced age (83), Mubarak did not forget to have his hair dyed black for his court appearance, observed a reporter.
The temptation is to take sadistic delight at his fall from grace, but it was more of a pitiful sight as he lay on the stretcher pleading his innocence whereas a few months earlier he was fulminating against anyone who dared challenge him.
The writing was on the wall after the Tunisia uprising, but Mubarak still dug in — in typical dictator fashion.
Political arrogance cuts across all ages.
There was Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler who had to commit suicide as the Soviet Union’s Red Army was within metres of his bunker after his deranged ideas of Aryan superiority plunged the globe into World War II, resulting in the death of millions and sowing the seeds of future conflict, the ramifications of which are still being felt today.
Then there was his Italian sidekick Benito Mussolini whose body was urinated on by women to seal the contempt they held him in.
Then there was Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife who were summarily executed by the angry, long-suffering Romanians in 1989.
As can be seen, dictators take a lot of people down with them. And it takes generations to heal the wounds from such misrule.
All these dictators assumed power with pretensions of democracy.
Dictators always think they will succeed where other oppressors have failed.
Basically dictatorship is built on fooling everyone all the time, but that cannot be sustained forever. Life has a way of balancing things out.
That’s why all these dictators or their systems eventually fell.
Back to the seeds of dictatorship, the sense of entitlement to power grows in direct proportion to time in office.
Dictators end up going through the motions of democracy while entrenching their dictatorial rule. Nearer home, Hastings Kamuzu “The Ngwazi (The All-Knowing)” Banda lorded it over Malawi, declaring himself Life President.
Mubarak, who came into power in 1981 following the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat, was routinely re-elected with over 90% of the vote as he ran on his own with any opposition parties of worth virtually disqualified or conditions made impossible for them to campaign effectively.
According Soviet Union dictator Josef Stalin (“Man of Steel”), it isn’t the votes that matter, but who counts them. Mubarak, it appears, took Stalin’s advice very much to heart.
Political arrogance also affects all political classes. Wrote columnist Jeff Pope: “Political arrogance is far more dangerous than social arrogance. In civil society, arrogance is the simple disdain for others due to class, wealth, education, or breeding. It is a trait that America, being egalitarian from its founding, strongly rejects.
Political arrogance, however, is a much more virulent strain of the disease because it transforms a politician from a person having an appreciation of being first elected to a position of power into one who believes power naturally comes to him or her because they are uniquely worthy of it.
To those who see themselves in this way, the vote of the people does not indicate a preference for a type of governance; nor is it an expression of the general will on specific issues.
Rather, electoral victory is an affirmation of their special status as the worthy leaders of the populace at large and an implied acceptance by the voters to be led in whatever direction they deem fit.
To the arrogant politician, the voter wants ‘me’, not someone to represent them and their views.”
In Zimbabwe, voters have been told in no uncertain terms that, to quote the late General Vitalis Zvinavashe, the Presidency is a “straitjacket” reserved only for those with liberation war credentials; Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has said the government cannot be changed “by a mere pen which costs 5 cents”; and now Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba has reinforced this chorus by declaring himself and his peers view Morgan Tsvangirai as a “security threat” despite the fact the majority of voters cast ballots in favour of the MDC-T leader in the first round of the presidential election in 2008. How does Nyikayaramba arrive at that except in typical fashion of political arrogance?
Zimbabwe has been the sick man of the region for the past 11 years whereas it should be a leading light along with South Africa.
There is now fatigue in Sadc over the endless political impasse in Zimbabwe.
True patriots invest in the nation, not in individuals who come and go.
The military can be a positive force for institutional stability and change, as seen in Egypt where the army has managed to contain the situation largely well in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster through popular will.
That is why professionally trained soldiers with liberation war credentials have strongly objected to Jabulani Sibanda masquerading as one of them while terrorising Masvingo villagers.
Sibanda’s conduct goes against their training and background. Sibanda and all those lackeys who invaded Parliament Building last month had better learn that quick enough if they are to avoid the fate of being hunted down by the regular army such as befell the so-called Malawi Young Pioneers, who were not answerable to the State, but were Banda’s personal militia and stormtroopers.
It’s an encouraging sign that genuine military people have raised concerns to protect their professional integrity.
As for those in the military top brass still insistent on not saluting anyone without liberation war credentials, they need to be reminded that there is nothing as constant as change and that tide can’t be stopped.
Their role, at the most, is to manage such change as is happening in Egypt where Mubarak has painted himself into a corner by resisting the march of time.
“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly,” said American scientist Buckminster Fuller.