Zimbabwe’s Castro?

What legacy will Robert Mugabe leave behind?
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, attends the 12th African Union Summit Feb. 2, 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The assembly agreed to a schedule for the formation of Zimbabwe's new unity government, calling for the immediate lifting of sanctions on the country. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released)

The death of the long-serving military leader of Cuba last November was a sigh of relief for some and a day of loss and sorrow for others. Given the oppressive history of colonialism, countries susceptible to it, like Zimbabwe, have always defended the actions of Castro in shunning the Western world in order to defeat its subjugator tendencies.

Castro left a legacy many third world leaders aim to emulate. Despite the imposition of sanctions for close to fifty years, under Castro, Cuba managed to register successes in the education sector as seen through its export of highly trained doctors to other countries. Cuba was able to feed its population through robust agricultural policies enunciated by Fidel Castro.

Politically, Castro managed to leave behind a highly centralised socialist government after a clear succession plan saw his brother Raul taking the reins of power in 2011. But what legacy is a Castro-like Mugabe likely to leave for Zimbabwe?

As we enter 2017, we get closer to what has been dubbed the water shade elections. The 2018 election in Zimbabwe could change the country for good. At the age of 92, a clearly frail Mugabe who can hardly talk or walk is once again beaming with confidence that he will stand as a presidential candidate and win. It is highly likely that Mugabe is going to win the forthcoming election through hook and crook. This shows that he does not care about his legacy.

He has been hailed for many positives he has done for Zimbabwe after participating in the liberation war in which he served an eleven-year jail term without trail. Mugabe inherited a country which was bitterly divided along racial lines. Unlike what Samora Machel of Mozambique and Fidel Castro did to the colonists, Mugabe chose to be reconciliatory and used the ‘let bygones be bygones’ mantra to make white people, who feared retribution for the racist policies and colonialism they previously supported during the Rhodesian era, to stay and contribute to the development of a new Zimbabwe.

Through his reconciliatory message at independence, Robert Mugabe wanted to urge white people to stop emigrating. Zimbabwe registered successes in agriculture and the education sectors. Zimbabwe today is regarded as a highly literate country in Africa. Clinics and other basic amenities reach the rural folks who never ever dreamt of having modern medication in their backyards. Roads are extended to the deep rural areas and Mugabe’s government made sure that public transport is affordable and accessible to everyone.

In 2002, the Economist, looking at Mugabe’s Zimbabwe’s early times, dubbed it the bread basket of Africa as it was feeding its entire population and exporting food. The country became the model of a post-colonial society. These characteristics bear resemblance to the Castro’s early days.

However, even the faults of Mugabe date back to the early years of his governance. Since the blacks fought the liberation war popularly known as the Second Chimurenga along tribal lines, the country itself was also divided along these. Unity after independence proved problematic and Mugabe resorted to  Darfur style atrocities to neutralise minorities.

History will never forgive Mugabe for the corruption his government presided over during the switch over to capitalism during the 1990s. The introduction of the Bretton Woods Institutions Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) aimed to resuscitate the economy which had stagnated as a result of the frivolous spending of the first decade of independence. The program, however, led to the massive job losses,  which resulted in Mugabe’s support falling to a record low.

The open market approach, prescribed as a panacea to the stagnating economy, led to clientelism and corruption in the government, as the ministers demanded kickbacks from people who sought to start businesses in Zimbabwe. The famous Willowgate scandal of 1988-89, where ministers stole cars meant for government business under Mugabe’s nose, dented his legacy beyond repair. This was followed by a string of extra-judicial killings presided by Zimbabwe’s ‘Gestapo’-the Central Intelligence Organisation, notoriously known as the CIO.

At the end of the 90s, the coming in of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a more robust and popular political party tracing its roots in the popular labor movement, helped to damage Mugabe’s legacy even further. Unlike during the 90s, in which killings and crushing of dissent were done surreptitiously, the 2000s saw Mugabe openly crushing dissent and vociferously attacking the Western world in a ‘Castrosque’ way.

With the MDC threatening to wrestle power away from Mugabe, open confrontation, and smashing dissent was implemented by unleashing the army onto the protesting masses with the help of the newly formed Joint Operation Command (JOC) led by war veterans and retired service chiefs. Through the tutelage of the JOC, the year 2000 was the prelude to the invasion and looting of white-owned commercial farms with some farmers killed in cold blood, a situation that further muddied the legacy Mugabe had created during his early years in office.

The food security legacy Mugabe had taken years to meticulously build was also dented during this time. Zimbabwe suddenly became a basket case, a scenario it has failed to get out of.

As if that was not enough, political violence continues to be the norm during and after election time with Mugabe openly denying electoral defeat. Despite being beaten in an election in 2008, his failure to concede defeat and reports of electoral rigging has brought an unacceptable precedent in Africa. With his advanced age and the current rot in his deeply divided and corrupt government, what does this mean to Mugabe’s legacy?

Mehari Fisseha

Mehari has PhD in Social Policy and Social Work, Masters in Government and Public Policy. Mehari has been an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. Mehari is a passionate champion on Human Rights and Development issues, with a focus in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He is also interested in the reform of the United Nations. His academic work is driven by his commitment to empowerment and ‘betterment’ of the powerless (people, communities), often invisible in the eyes of policy makers, that policies ignore their very ‘realities’. Mehari is a recipient of European Academy of Diplomacy award for the best candidate in the European diplomacy and Foreign policy workshop.
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