EYAKUZE: I totally get those who refuse to praise Bob

Saturday September 14 2019

A man buys a daily newspaper at a stand on the streets of Nairobi, on September 7, 2019, following the death of Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP


Writing an obituary about a subject as complex as Robert Mugabe has taught me several things.

One: At some point, the pretence of journalistic remove must be dropped and your truth be told. There is no objectivity.

So I can finally confess that it has been like running a marathon and winning, unexpectedly. At the back of my mind there was always the question: Would I be lucky enough to outlive Zimbabwe’s former president-almost-for-life, Robert Mugabe?

I attended a presentation once given by a Zimbabwean photographer whose specialty was Mugabe pictures. He pointed out something he had noticed: Over time, even as the clean-living president aged, there would be moments when he would suddenly rejuvenate and look far younger than he really should at his age.

Very curious indeed. After that there emerged rumours of the his frequent visits to Singapore for undisclosed medical reasons. Ah, I thought. Singapore, huh?

Perhaps fitting, then, that he died where he was being treated. An element of exile. This is satisfying. I did not feel good things about Robert Mugabe, no matter how fantastic his retorts to the British he was so obsessed with, were.


Murderous autocrats, no matter how glorious their past, are a personal challenge in the practice of forgiveness. And so yes, I totally get it with the Zimbabweans and Africans who politely declined to praise sing the king upon his death.

Two: Boy, do people hate it when you write about a leader who is not yours. Not that I got a lot of push-back but one or two people told me in bad English that I should go back home and write about what I know.

This would have embarrassed their Uncle Bob on two accounts: He was a pan-Africanist, so technically everyone is everyone’s business on the continent, neh? Also, you let the Old Man down. Grammatically incorrect put-down? For shame.

Three: I’m not so much about the religious texts, but that whole ‘‘what goes around comes around’’ thing seems fairly accurate. It may be true that so many of the good die young and the not-so-good live long lives but at the end of the day you only have two things—your demise and your legacy.

By all accounts Mugabe died exactly as I suspected he might: desolate and bereft of his power and far from home. Sad. And all this to leave behind a legacy that might at best be considered ‘‘complicated’’ if this generation allows for any revisionism to happen. It might not.

And lastly: Indeed, the political pendulum of the world seems to be swinging rightwards, with autocracy on the rise again. But in Africa, this is no longer a discussion about individual leaders no matter how egomaniacal they are and no matter how sycophantic we are thought to be.

We are battling amongst ourselves to define what future we want: Is it really potentially explosive autocratic development or messy and inclusive but also dangerous democracy?

I posit we don’t call them leaders anymore so much as call them mirrors, for the discussions they engender are really our conversations amongst ourselves.

Robert Mugabe: Hero, Villain, Human. And ultimately, no more. There’s the whole story right there.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]