PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe finally got the applause he craves when he landed in Sudan on Tuesday this week for the inauguration of President Omar al-Bashir. It was really expected.
After all, both Mugabe and Bashir carry the same political baggage. They are among Africa’s longest-ruling leaders and do not show any intent to step down whatsoever, Mugabe having been in power since 1980, and Bashir since staging a military coup in 1989.
They haven’t distinguished themselves as democrats and upholders of the rule of law.
Bashir’s political thuggery has made him the only sitting Head of State to face genocide charges at the International Criminal Court.
Bashir’s landslide re-election in April this year was as hollow as Mugabe’s landslide “victory” in the 2008 presidential runoff, with the opposition pulling out citing intimidation and gross unfairness. Said a Sudanese rights campaigner after Bashir’s “win”: “It is the opposite of a great day for democracy. There was general apathy, a sort of fatalism that Bashir and his party were competing with themselves. The boycott was systemic, including even from the membership of the ruling party.”
Here Mugabe is also competing with himself having shut out every rival. And at the very least half of Zanu PF members — those sympathetic to the increasingly popular axed Vice-President Joice Mujuru — are now not with Mugabe at all.
But it was a different reception altogether in Nigeria the previous week where Mugabe had been to attend the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari after truly democratic elections and a peaceful and orderly transition as Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan handed over power to him. This makes Africa a study in contrasts when compared to Zimbabwe and Sudan.
So, it’s no wonder that Mugabe got a most befitting hot reception in Nigeria with its newly-found democratic credentials as the media pressed him for answers that Information minister Jonathan Moyo, who was in far-away Harare, did not have time to spin.
The first question was: “Mr President, don’t you think it’s time to step down?” Indeed, after 35 years of continuous rule, you lay yourself bare to such questions.
Then the next one: “How is your health . . . ? Don’t you think it’s time to step down?” Indeed, at the age of 91 and with evident failing health, such questions are very much in order.
Followed by: “Is there democracy in Zimbabwe? There is no democracy in Zimbabwe, it’s very sad.” Indeed, Zanu PF pays lip service to democracy. A whole Vice-President blatantly threatens people not to vote for the opposition. They can’t even let independent candidate Temba Mliswa campaign freely for next week’s by-elections.
These very people expect an easy ride in Nigeria, but back home they give the opposition a rough ride. Are we talking about a split political personality?
Yes, these utterly confusing and contradictory signals point to a regime gone schizophrenic. You cry foul when you are the foulest player. Didn’t the whole continent see the rough-house treatment Mujuru was subjected to? Where is anti-government activist Itai Dzamara, who was abducted in March? These are the things people immediately associate Mugabe with wherever he is and whatever the occasion.
So, it was quite horrifying to hear Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi eerily echo Moyo and the fanatic and frenetic Tafataona Mahoso as follows: “. . . we are disappointed by the behaviour of those gangsters (the Nigerian journalists)… As Africans, we should respect leaders particularly putting into context that President Mugabe was holding the revered office of AU chair.”
If I may remind Dongozi, Ugandan military dictator Idi Amin held the now renamed AU chair in 1975, but did that expunge his record as a butcher? Mugabe, whether he is AU chair or not, has a whole lot to answer for. My friend Dongozi, at times it’s better to reserve your comments.
As for the State media, they couldn’t dare reprint the probing questions fired at Mugabe by the Nigerians reporters because the issues raised were embarrassingly contextual and true.
All they had was Moyo’s “straw man fallacy” — that is, a false counter argument when a person simply ignores the other person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. That’s exactly what Moyo did when he absurdly brought Boko Haram into the argument or equation. Said Moyo: “Of course, those are human beings, but are they journalists or Boko Haram? How do you know they were journalists, since they did not behave as such?”
Well, Boko Haram are not known for firing questions, but guns. With Boko Haram’s gratuitous violence, there would have been a slaughter there.
And how can one make light of the atrocities of Boko Haram? Our curse in Zimbabwe is that there is a deficit of common sense, common honesty and common decency at the very top.
As a result, they have been producing lies on an industrial scale such as that the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe lies at 11% whereas it is northwards of 80% as seen in the diminishing tax revenue and the vending jungle that Harare has become.
Moyo has, it has to be said, previously displayed such sickening levity and uncouth insensitivity. Remember when he cynically “plagiarised” the anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001 when letters containing anthrax pores were mailed to several news media offices and two Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others and he then accused the opposition MDC of doing the same here? Yes, he couldn’t resist the urge to make political capital out of death.
But to be successful in misleading and misrepresenting, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument. Well, on that score, Moyo has dismally and overwhelmingly failed to deflect and distract from the issues raised in Nigeria about Mugabe.
One only has to read the comments on the website of his mouthpiece The Herald to see that here at home, people have the same burning questions, questions that need very much to be answered as a fire needs to be extinguished.
That said, Mugabe was clearly out of place in Abuja. What Mugabe really stands for and what the occasion was about were worlds apart. What was being celebrated in Nigeria — peaceful democratic transition — is what Mugabe detests here: Change.
How can one who is not a democrat grace and dignify a democratic occasion? Do Catholics take mass from a pagan? The dissonance and inappropriateness of Mugabe’s presence spoke for itself. The dissimilarities and incongruities were plain for all to see — and eventually to a most embarrassing extent as Mugabe was accosted by the journalists as he left the inauguration.
Unless and until he reforms — which is highly unlikely given his obstinacy and age — Mugabe should give all occasions to do with democracy a miss, a wide berth, to save himself from walking straight into embarrassment and humiliation.
Mugabe is a throwback to the strong-man rigid politics of the past in a new, democratising Africa — that’s how out of place he has become.