All entries for Wednesday 16 April 2008
April 16, 2008
Stepping down has never been a favourite do among
bureaucrats and politicians. No matter how putrid the dead
rats may turn, there they remain until democracy gets the upper
hand and the electorate starts feeding its spirit on hope again.
But despite our local exemplars, in terms of epic gaffes against
one’s own country, none of our local baddies past or present
comes anywhere near Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s
In a matter of years, President Bob has wreaked havoc
on one of the most stunningly beautiful corners on earth.
Zimbabwe is today plagued by a collapsed economy, poverty,
inflation, the decimation of entire communities, forced seizure
of land, assassinations and torture. Living in Zimbabwe today,
expect to be around 37 years old when you pop off. If you are
lucky, that is. Bread, sugar and petrol have become luxuries to
kill for. Unemployment is at a scary 80 per cent while inflation
hovers around 7,600 per cent, which means that for the price
of a single slab of stone in today’s Zimbabwe you would have
bought yourself a nice detached villa with breathtaking views
of the Zambezi back in the 80s. Zimbabwe is running on much
less than empty.
The bespectacled revolutionary who stood up to Ian Smith’s
government, led his country to independence and took the helm
in 1980 is now clinging to power for life like a frightened animal.
He knows that if he steps down, he may not be as lucky as
fellow crook Idi Amin. His placid, matter-of-fact ruthlessness
has made of Robert Mugabe something of a myth. Admittedly,
some of us have at some point marvelled at this Ultimate Big
Man of Africa, surviving well into the 21st century, with an army
solidly behind him, hatcheting opposition as if he had no other
care in the world.
My South African colleagues, budding diplomats from
Cambridge and the UCL, cut me short as I harangue them on
Mugabe and why on earth is he still in power? “He’s an iron
fist. And he has stolen the limelight.” Arm-wringing EU leaders
bickered last year over whether to let Bob into the EU-Africa
summit. In the cut and thrust, the British Prime Minister, of all
people, pledged he would skip the talks if the Zimbabwean
dictator were to be let in. So the PM failed to be there as
Bad Penny Bob turned up, to the pomp and circumstance of
flashing cameras. Adding heavier insult, a sober faced German
Chancellor-ess scolded Mugabe’s regime, gravely pointing out
that, “The situation in Zimbabwe concerns us all, in Europe and
in Africa” and that “we don’t have the right to look away when
human rights are trampled on”. Tut tut, mein lieber Gott, Frau
Merkel, I didn’t know that one!
What a good thing that Vaclav Havel, Nadine Gordimer and
Wole Soyinka accused the Europe-Africa summit organisers of
political cowardice. How come the people of Zimbabwe and
Darfur were not that high on the summit agenda, they wrote.
In a country crippled by dictatorial whims, hardship and
a parched economy, juiciness comes in one brand: Grace
Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s classy First Lady abuses the media’s
attention on her husband, having it easy with her Parisian
shopping sprees in the meantime. Mrs Mugabe shops with far
greater gusto than all of the Wags put together. So far, she has
blown around £2.1 million on shopping alone. She is reported to
spend around £75,000 in a two-hour spree alone. Some think
that, more than just her husband’s wallet, Grace has battered
Bob’s very taste for the rule of law. 40 years his junior, she
has even coaxed the President into getting her the luxurious
DC-9 airliner previously owned by Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner.
Another half a million pounds of government funds have gone
into Gracelands, her 30-bedroom palace in Harare, Zimbabwe’s
capital. Her latest property project is a £6 million mansion outside
the capital, a plum three-storey property complete with Italian
baths and Oriental carpeting. Not to mention the estimated
£200 million of jet fuel siphoned into Lady G’s forays around the
world’s poshest shopping centres, courtesy of Air Zimbabwe.
Ah, and those infamous Ferragamos. Asked about the thick
wads of notes she blows on shoes, Ms Mugabe remarked: “I
have very narrow feet, so I wear only Ferragamo.”
In many ways, Grace Mugabe reminds me of Louis XVI’s
wife Marie Antoinette lost in her lavish daily hairdos while flour
prices soared and the French people bent over in famine.
Contrary to popular Maltese folklore, the word ‘deficit’ was not
coined by a Maltese government. Back in pre-revolutionary
France, as the guillotine days loomed large, Marie Antoinette
was already dubbed ‘Madame DeFicit’. Only, the reckoning
did come to France in the end, whereas in Zimbabwe it is
A meek Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia and
friend of Mugabe, has thoughtfully let us know that, “It is my
humble prayer that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his
regional colleagues will meet Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who will
be ready in his soul, mind, and body to respond to the advice
they give him and the people of Zimbabwe.” Give that gibberish
to the marines, Ken. Mbeki and friends will not lift a finger for
Zimbabwe’s sake. And not because they still worship Mugabe
for the revolutionary he once was. That too is hogwash. They
fear the hardline groups within their own countries, who would
use any anti-Mugabe move to hint that their leaders are caving
in to the whims of Europe and the US.
Even if my hometown teems with red-hot chillies hanging
from Escort-Mark-1 rear-view mirrors, church gossip and
witchcraft of every kind, I have never been superstitious.
Sometimes, however, the gods leave warnings we cannot
ignore. As I created the new ‘Mugabe’ file at the time of
writing, my brand-new Mac crashed and offered me the
2008 will have to be kinder to the people of Zimbabwe. Or
no one else will.