Mugabe: Death of an African icon

SANF 19 no 43
Very few leaders have grabbed the attention of the world like former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

A champion of the political and economic liberation of Africans, Mugabe was a man of conviction. Never one to be easily intimidated by the repercussions of standing up against or questioning Western hegemony.

To many in the West he was a thorn in the flesh, an irritant who raised many uncomfortable questions that threatened the dominance of their countries in global affairs.

For that reason they had to impose economic sanctions on him and Zimbabwe.

Despite the devastating impact of the sanctions on his country, Mugabe soldiered on and convinced fellow African leaders that the only way to achieve total freedom is by attaining economic liberation and reducing dependence on outsiders.

It was, therefore, no coincidence that both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) embarked on programmes to industrialize their economies.

While he was SADC chairperson from August 2014 to August 2015, the region developed and adopted a strategy to promote industrialization.

A harsh critic of Western domination of global issues, Mugabe oversaw the process of developing the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap, approved in Harare in April 2015.

He argued that the policy framework should enable the region to transform its economies from being raw resource-dependent to ones that enjoy beneficiated products and are technology driven, dynamic and diversified.

While he was SADC chairperson, Mugabe was also chairperson of the AU and, true to principle, he – again – campaigned for the continent to adopt strategies that allow citizens of member states to benefit from their natural resources through value-addition and beneficiation.

Mugabe was one of the founding fathers of SADC. As Prime Minister-designate, he joined leaders of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia in Lusaka, Zambia on 1 April 1980 to establish the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) – precursor to SADC.

Since its establishment, SADC has achieved a number of milestones aimed at advancing political and economic freedom.

Together with the other SADC founding fathers, Mugabe was instrumental in the attainment of political independence of South Africa and Namibia.

As chair of both SADC and the AU, Mugabe was among the outspoken leaders of the global debate on the reform of the international financial system, which imposes stringent conditions on development support to Africa.

He repeated his insistence that the United States-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – the global institutions that control large-scale financial and development loans backed by the US and Europe – are unbalanced and selective in their approach.

Since its formation in 1944 at Bretton Woods in the US, the World Bank presidency is traditionally American while the IMF is headed by a European.

Admired by many in Africa as a liberation icon, Mugabe offered a message of hope and unity to millions of his compatriots when he became the first black prime minister of newly independent Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980.

He did not disappoint on his promise during the greater part of his 37 years in power, delivering a free education system in the 1980s that was the envy of many of Zimbabwe’s neighbours and far afield, as well as announcing a much vaunted policy of reconciliation with the white population of the country soon after independence.

The reconciliation policy endeared him to Western nations which poured in resources into the southern African country, making it one of the jewels of Africa.

Under his rule, Zimbabwe remained one of the countries with high literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, averaging above 90 percent of the population over the greater part of the past 30 years.

Since independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean government has always prioritised education by giving it one of the highest allocations in its national budgets.

Figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency show that the literacy rate has consistently risen over the past 25 years despite economic challenges faced by the country, rising from 80.38 percent in 1992 to 97.6 percent in 2014.

Mugabe is also credited with the programme to give land to landless Zimbabweans that was pursued by the government since 2000.

Over 300,000 families benefited from the land reform programme, an exercise Mugabe said was meant to address the historical inequalities in the ownership of natural resources.

Under the economic indigenisation programme, introduced in 2010, Mugabe made sure that indigenous Zimbabweans benefited from the exploitation the natural resources of the country.

Widely resisted by some foreign investors but greeted with enthusiasm from locals, the programme required foreigners to surrender at least 49 percent of their shareholding to indigenous Zimbabweans.

The programme was, however, abused by some locals, with some – including senior government officials – extorting funds from foreigners for purposes of protection.

Mugabe resigned on 21 November 2017 and was replaced by his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Born on 21 February 1924 in Kutama, Zvimba, Mugabe dedicated his life to the ideals of human dignity and common humanity.

Another attribute that endeared Mugabe to the public was his oratory skills. Very few, if any, African leaders had the ability to captivate an audience with their capacity to eloquently articulate global issues from a Southern perspective.

At many international events, the audiences were beholden by his fearless nature – especially his ability to speak truth to global powers.

On hearing the news about the passing of Mugabe, a journalist colleague from Lesotho commented that the media fraternity has lost one of its main news sources.

“Mugabe always kept us busy at conferences or whenever he said something in public. None of the remaining leaders has that ability to captivate the world like Mugabe did,” said the journalist.

Mugabe died while receiving medical treatment in Singapore on 6 September, aged 95. More than 20 Heads of State and former Heads of State are expected to attend his funeral in Zimbabwe on 14-15 September.

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region. 

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