ULIMWENGU: Mugabe’s change into a Mobutu was a brilliant failure of his promising start

Sunday September 15 2019

Robert Mugabe.

Perhaps some people may now help us understand why Mugabe, the erstwhile liberator, turned into a Mobutu Sese Seko, from hero to zero. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Just who was this man, what did he stand for, what did he signify, how did he dupe all those he duped into believing they were seeing the real thing when they should have known otherwise?

Here I have stated just a couple of the questions that I suspect many will be asking about the man, who, despite his long life, remains an enigma.

Just who was Robert Gabriel Mugabe?

Historians and political scientists have written tomes about him, and there is little doubt they will continue doing so for a long time to come, but the complexity of the man, his country and his legacy will be here for a long time to come, long after you and I have said our RIPs.


We can easily set aside all the known facts about the life of this very interesting man, his birth, his Catholicism, his anger against colonialism, his rise to the leadership of the Zimbabwe liberation movement and his disastrous (or otherwise) leadership of the country unto the abyss from which it still has to come back from.


I do not wish to delve into the usual, hackneyed, narratives of African political deformations and the ideological bents by which we are habitually pigeonholed by those we perceive as anti-African, whatever that means. Let us stay with the purely rational.

How did a man who set out with a rational quest for the freedom of his people end up negating that very ideal by indulging himself in the most base of human frailties such as the lust for mundane material riches with all the silly trappings that attach to them?

For a man who had assured himself of the adulation of a good part of his country’s people, what did a posh residence in Sandton, Singapore, Hong Kong or England mean? What importance could he have attached to the luxurious cars and coaches that he actually hardly rode in?

People have for long blamed it on Grace, the ‘‘Lady Macbeth’’ of the Zimbabwean drama, but I propose we cut a little slack for the poor girl whose only fault must have been to dig a little gold and in the process be blinded by the glitter of possible political power.

The real villain of this piece has to remain Uncle Bob himself, who, in the course of reading for his many university degrees, should have come across classical examples of Hubris and Nemesis, Trojan Horses, the Four Horses of the Apocalypse and the Freudian Compact, all of which should teach the conscientious scholar to keep his appetites in check.


Mugabe was, in the end, a failure, a failure made even more brilliant by the promise he held at the out start. He had a chance to unify his country, after he had defeated Joshua Nkomo in an ethnic-led contest, but he failed to rise above the divide, reportedly killing more than ten thousand people in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres carried out in the Ndebele part of the country. The result has meant, to this day, that it is hardly possible to meet a Ndebele who speaks well of Mugabe.

Land seizures became a byword for Zimbabwe as Mugabe carried out what many people thought was a necessary correction of historical injustices. Nineteenth century land grabs by Cecil Rhodes and his marauders had been a corner-stone grievance for all who fought to free Zimbabwe. But it soon became clear that most of the exercise was meant to advantage Mugabe and his cronies.

When he got embroiled in the Congo, he ostensibly went there because Laurent Kabila, the president, had asked for assistance to deal with a rebellion backed by Rwanda, but soon that so-called assistance was revealed to be an economic venture involving senior political and military figures lured by the mineral riches of that country. Mugabe’s family was heavily involved.

When independent media reported on this Congo plunder, they were attacked as traitors, and some of their editors tortured, as evidenced by the testimonies of Mark Chavunduka of the Standard. The Congo enterprise involved many influential people in Mugabe’s circles, including defence minister Moven Mahachi, Zanu-PF business controller, Emmerson Mnangagwa and an arms super dealer, General Vitalis Zvinavashe.

Some of these people may now help us understand why Mugabe, the erstwhile liberator, turned into a Mobutu Sese Seko, from hero to zero.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]