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Africa 2011 – The trappings of power

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As we draw closer to the end of this remarkable and defining year, we are compelled to pause and reflect on the many thoughts and ideas about State power.

The post-colonial experience has produced its own unique case studies about what it takes to get, hold and stay in power.

Muammar Gaddafi was the longest- serving head of state in Africa who began the year oblivious to what was taking place around him and how power was escaping from him and, more importantly, his inevitable exit.

We all watched Christiane Amanpour’s interview of Gaddafi on February 28 2011 with interest and amusement when he evidently exposed how little prepared he was to grasp the nature and context of the wind of change that was blowing in North Africa.

Gaddafi predictably denied there were demonstrations against him anywhere in Libya.

In Gaddafi’s own words, this is what he thought of the state of mind of the majority of the people of Libya: “They love me. All my people are with me, they love me. They will die to protect me, my people.”

Up to the exit point, he held the view that the people of Libya truly loved him and that he was indispensable.

He is not alone, as most leaders acquire the same tendencies to see the world through the people who invest in lying to them about the true state of affairs.

Most African leaders, once they borrow the people’s power through electoral processes, acquire a sense of invincibility and the support system around them does not help in convincing them that no State actor is meant to acquire a sense of indispensability as such a notion is inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of representative democracy.

Staying in power for too long has its own costs and unintended distortions and has less visible benefits on human progress.

Human life and experience has informed us that no living human being is capable of acquiring superhuman attributes to the extent that one can intelligently claim that the country would be worse off if they were to relinquish power.

In response to a question of whether he would consider stepping down in response to calls against violence by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, Gaddafi laughingly said: “Would anyone leave his homeland? Why would I leave Libya?”

When asked by Amanpour why the rebels had captured Benghazi if they supported him he responded saying: “This is al-Qaeda. This is al-Qaeda. It is al-Qaeda, not my people.”
Many African leaders exhibit the same attitude as Gaddafi.

In fact, his last minute was like a movie as he had no capacity to comprehend what was taking place and, more significantly, the people who had given him a false sense of security were not really his friends.

In the face of the dramatic events that have taken place this year, we have to locate the different responses by European State actors and African State actors to failed policies and mass protests.

An interesting question emerges on what makes some leaders cling to power at all costs in the name of the very people who suffer from their continued rule.

Do they cling to power because of an obsession? How can this be checked?

We have to begin the conversation by accepting that democracy is not a perfect mechanism for identifying and selecting the right leaders.

Surely, putting an X on a ballot paper is not a smart process and the outcome thereof can never be expected to be smarter than the process itself.

To the extent that incumbent leaders have no mechanism known to men to know the real feelings about the true impact of their leadership, it becomes difficult to communicate to any leader about the real climate on the ground.

A person enjoying the trappings of power typically has all at his disposal that is connected with power including the immunity from the truth.

Leaders are typically the last to know about what is taking place around them.

Some will recall how former President R. Banda and Kaunda were the last to know that Zambians had other ideas about them.

As I look back at my own journey, I am also compelled to add my voice to the unintentional collective support that we render to leaders through silence and inaction that has the tendency to immunize leaders from the truth.

I was specified on 9 July 2004 and de-specified on 19 May 2010. At the world cup last year, I had the opportunity to meet President Mugabe during the opening and closing matches.

Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Professor Mutambara was fortunately a witness and participant at both occasions that gave us the opportunity to discuss about the SMM matter.

The workers at SMM must no doubt be concerned about the state of affairs at the mine and why the head of state has chosen to focus on empowerment of other mines with no known public opinion about the justice and equity of depriving a black person of property while preaching the opposite.

With respect to SMM, a case has been made that there was a need to invoke a law that did not exist and create an Administrator extra-judicially.

President Mugabe’s views on the rule of law and the respect for property and human rights are well known but the actions of the administration that he presides over may not be truly revealed to him to the extent that he believes that his administration and people close to him can do no wrong.

No law existed to permit the government of Zimbabwe to assume the control and administration of a private company.

With the full confidence that a manufactured law can be rubber stamped by Parliament, Hon. Chinamasa using state of emergency powers proceeded to takeover SMM with impunity.

I have no doubt that the President was told convincing lies about the state of affairs at SMM to the extent that he saw no wrong in invoking a law that has no equal in the world.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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