Go, Mugabe, Go

TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI, Email: reuben.abati@thisdaylive.com and abati1990@gmail.com


Since August, I have been the anchorperson of a programme on television called ThisDay Live where we discuss political matters – local and global. The programme is available on Arise News TV at 6pm, 9pm and sometimes at midnight every Sunday. Two days ago, we discussed the situation in Zimbabwe, the elections in Anambra, Nigeria’s decision to hire Malaysian experts at a cost of N485 million to figure out new pathways for Nigeria’s economic growth (with all the experts in Nigeria oh!), the proposed expansion of President Buhari’s cabinet, the burial of 26 teenage Nigerians by the Italian authorities without Nigeria showing up, the sale of Nigerians and other Africans into slavery in Libya… But our top story was Zimbabwe and the travails of a once-upon-a-time Comrade Robert Mugabe. We started the programme by joining the Arise News studio in London where our colleague Tham who has been on the Zimbabwean story provided all the updates.

He had said that he thought that the Lagos studio was a little behind on the story, because at that point, there were clear indications that Robert Mugabe had been persuaded to resign and he thought that would happen in a matter of hours, because television cameras were already being set up and Mugabe, having been expelled from the ruling party, along with his Lady Macbeth wife- the Gucci Grace, was bound to throw in the towel. I engaged Tham and my last question to him was: Is it certain that Mugabe would resign, or he would have to be impeached? I paraphrase of course. But Tham was sure, he was certain that the matter would not require impeachment proceedings, and that Mugabe was sure to resign and allow Zimbabwe to move ahead. His optimism was misplaced, and I do not blame Tham for his optimism. We all have been very optimistic that the drama of Zimbabwe had reached a certain end, but the reality is that the coup plotters of Zimbabwe are proving to be the nicest coup plotters ever in the history of that enterprise.

The more we hear about Zimbabwe, the more it appears that the military and the ZANU-PF hierarchy who want Robert Mugabe out of the way, are not really sure of what means to employ to achieve their objective. This must be the most uncertain, the most diffident bid for power ever, and it is a clear illustration of the extent of Robert Mugabe’s hold on power in that unfortunate country. Majority of the people who want Mugabe out of power may not like his wife, the typist turned mistress, turned wife, turned Lady Macbeth, turned power-seeker, but they remember Mugabe’s role in the history of their nation – he fought for independence, he defied the colonialists and the imperialists, but he then became a despot, muzzling the opposition, killing off any form of dissent, the once revered revolutionary soon became a woman-wrapper, and in his later years, a parody of his old self. Those who want him out of power are his own associates, members of a party he co-founded, not the opposition, and so they treat their elderly comrade with too much love. These coup-plotters are therefore behaving as if they are afraid to hurt Mugabe. He is so ensconced in their psyche, they would rather not hurt him, because he is so central to their collective reckoning and history.

The Zimbabwe military has been treading so carefully it does not even want to use the word “coup”. I believe that this is not necessarily out of the fear of international backlash – the international community would be glad to see Mugabe fall- all the issued statements are at best symbolic diplomatese. Mugabe is the oldest President in the world and a signal nuisance with his off-key speeches, falling spells, despotism and soporific appearances on the global stage. At 93, he has nothing to offer anymore, but the man has since declared that he is determined to remain in office till the age of 100, or interpretively, die in office.

A coup against such a man would attract the usual scripted responses but the global feeling would be one of actual relief. Leaders like Mugabe sometimes put international consensus to threat. Anyhow, the characters in charge of the current situation in Zimbabwe not only put Mugabe under house arrest, they have since then been going to him to pay homage. Two days after the military announced their intervention, the leaders went to visit Mugabe at home. He later showed up at a convocation ceremony, where he showed absolutely no signs of distress. One of the graduands was in fact the wife of the Zimbabwe Chief of Defence Forces! When Mugabe addressed the nation on Sunday, he was serenaded by the same people who want him out of the way, with one of them even helping him to turn the pages of an incoherent speech.

The so-called change-agents of Zimbabwe are actually not change agents at all. What is going on in Zimbabwe is not a revolution; it is a re-arrangement of the power nexus within the ruling party. This is all at the end of the day about Grace Mugabe. The liberation veterans within the ruling party, who are aligned with the ousted former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa resent the rise to influence and power and the threat of further rise of Robert Mugabe’s wife, the 52-year old Grace Mugabe. They needed to stop the flow of her opportunism: her plan to capture the leader and capture the country with nothing more than female power. I agree that it is important and expedient to stop Grace Mugabe from turning an entire country into what is currently known in Nigeria as “the other room”. Having achieved that objective, and Robert Mugabe having reassured them, and they assuming that by taking leadership of the party from Mugabe and bringing back Mnangagwa, that the revolution has been saved, the elders of the events of the last week in Zimbabwe may end up advertising their own naivety.

The rigmarole, indeed the entertainment, has gone on for too long. The speech given by Robert Mugabe Sunday night showed that Mugabe is defiant. He is unwilling to resign or step down. He understands that the Sixth schedule of the Constitution creates its own special roadblocks if a “supposedly elected” President must be removed from office. If care is not taken, Robert Mugabe will outsmart those who want him out of power and we could have a tragic situation in that country. The old man of Zimbabwe politics is still trying to take charge, postponing the evil day and even after his removal from the leadership of the party, he wants to preside over the next meeting of the ZANU-PF.

Here is Mugabe behaving like that proverbial, aged uncle in the village who keeps defying death. Each time he falls ill and the children and grandchildren begin to prepare for his funeral, he would suddenly wake up again, sometimes after his death has been announced and funeral arrangements have been made. The family got trapped in the endless funeral arrangements, until someone came up with the idea that the Oracle should be consulted to find out the mystery of the old man’s repeated Lazarus-like existence. The Oracle’s striking revelation was that the old man had a charm, a ring on the big toe of his left leg, and until and except that ring is removed, the man may never die. What the change-seekers of Zimbabwe should do is to remove that ring around Mugabe’s thumb toe on the left leg.

It is none other than the respect and sympathy that the authors of the recent process still have for Mugabe. Left to the ZANU-PF leadership and the military, they’d rather have Mugabe die in office. What they cannot stand is the impunity of his overreaching wife, the Jezebel called Grace Mugabe. The turning point came when Grace turned her gaze on the liberation veterans and began to eliminate them starting with former VP Emmerson. The liberation wing of the ZANU-PF could no longer tolerate the rise of Grace Mugabe’s G-40 and their bid for power. Grace Mugabe is Robert Mugabe’s nemesis. She is the Delilah to his Samson.

When Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari told an international audience that his wife belongs to the sitting room, the kitchen and the other room, we all accused him of misogyny, but in far away Zimbabwe, Mugabe is making Buhari look like a man of wisdom. Not a few world leaders have been destroyed by their wives: Lucy Kibaki, the wife of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was so powerful, her husband openly deferred to her in public. In Africa’s patriarchal system, a President’s wife behaving like she has her husband on a leash, is bound to ignite crisis. Grace Mugabe is said to be in a fit of hysteria. Forty-one years younger than the husband she married by stabbing another husband in the back, Grace Mugabe will never be forgotten as a case study for the anatomy of female power.

On his own, Mugabe, going through a process of anagnorisis and devastating catharsis, wants to hold on to power by all means. Sit-tight African leaders and despots never want to leave. Idi Amin of Uganda didn’t want to go. Yahya Jammeh, the most recent example, tried every possible trick to prolong his stay in office. In Egypt, it took a people’s revolution to push Hosni Mubarak out. Mugabe is going through the same course of defiance. He needs to be reminded that the people are the real Oracle of democracy. The game is up. The genie is out of the bottle. In 37 years, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe, who have majorly not known any leader other than the old man, have never gone out in protest to reject him, not even when he brutalized the opposition, not even when he killed hundreds of thousands of Ndebeles, but now the people have found their voice. They are defying Mugabe.

They want him out. He has thus lost legitimacy and influence. His mystique is gone. His power is vanishing. Without power, a man of power is nothing but a shell. Mugabe has reportedly rejected every option that he has been given: resignation, a life in exile, or retirement within the country, with full immunity. He is not sure. He is trying to buy time. The truth is Mugabe has been caged. He is afraid of tomorrow. He is scared. It is good to see the hunter in the role of the hunted. He does not deserve our pity.

Hopefully, other sit-tight African leaders who imagine themselves to be monarchs rather than leaders would learn from the travails of former Comrade Robert Mugabe. In Togo, Equitorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Cameroon, and elsewhere in Africa, sitting Presidents are behaving like monarchs. The rings on their toes would also have to be removed by the people, in order to fully consolidate the democratic dispensation in Africa.

The international community must not allow Zimbabwe to continue to drift. The uncertainty that lingers in that country, if allowed to continue, could result in greater chaos and instability. The Military and the ZANU-PF have done apparently their best so far to push Robert Mugabe, but the man has refused to jump. The international community has the wherewithal to make him jump. It must be made clear to him in no uncertain terms that the game is up. It is over. The Zimbabwe parliament should be encouraged to impeach Robert Mugabe. Fears of a possible deluge in a Zimbabwe without Mugabe may be overstretched. Things are bad enough as they are in that country, with inflation at 50%, a comatose economy and widespread hardship. Mugabe’s exit should guarantee only one outcome: an opportunity to rebuild a battered country and a traumatized citizenry. That real change may not come from a compromised ZANU-PF and so-called rent-collecting liberation veterans, but from a new beginning in which Zimbabwe frees itself from the Banquo’s ghost of Mugabe’s misrule and an entitlement class parading itself as revolutionaries.

  • moribund9ja

    @93 Mugabe’s “the other room” is likely empty and dusty.

  • Ikenna Nwachukwu

    Uncle Reuben thanks for yet another insightful piece. You never let your fans down. I remember when I met you for the very first time in 1999 at Odia Ofeimun’s home in Lagos. Hahaha long time. Well there is an area where I continue to find your views highly worrisome and surprising and this the area of gay rights (because there is no such thing as gay rights). How is it that you seem to endorse this moral and physical perversion?

  • Joseph Nkashi

    The Zimbabwean episode is becoming an embarrassment to all.

    • Political Affey

      The desire for Mugabe to go has united friends and enemies

  • Omooba


    • Ikenna Nwachukwu

      So is the situation in Nigeria now better than it was under GEJ whom you have the childish audacity to mock as a once shoeless boy. A bag of rice is now 19k but it was 8k before however quoting stats is useless to someone determined to make any excuse for the cattle rearer from Daura

    • onyema22ohaka

      How is your certificateless daura dullard and his afonja co-tavellers doing now?

    • Chym


  • the masked one

    Mugube is quite lucky, perhaps, for his revolutionary credentials, to be given the rare privilege, by his co-revolutionaries turned putschists, to relive through what Abati termed “a process of anagnorisis and catharsis”, both desirable courses of self-inquiry and purification. But for how long?
    Are the putschists sincere or just pandering to some unseen sleight of hand, the such described by Abati as “international community”?

    If the putschists really mean business, Mugabe would not have been allowed a moment of denouement. Among the putschists and latter-day puritans of Zimbabwe are found beneficiaries of the lands dispossessed from the white minorities, mainly Britons. So, they owe a lot to Mugabe. Not the other way round.

    But this is not to say that Mugabe is not overripe for dethronement. And you ask, why was the “Day of Atonement” delayed until a certain Grace, Zimbabweans derisively rechristened FirstShopper(on a shopping spree in Paris, she spent $75,000 on luxury goods) or worst still DisGrace, emerged from the “other-room” before contemplating a change of government?

    Thinking if the Zimbabweans have had enough of the first family’s of obscene wealth with Gucci Grace? Earlier this year the couple’s youngest son, Bellarmine Chatunga, posted on Instagram a photograph of himself dousing his $60,000 worth gold wristwatch with Armand de Brignac gold champagne. The champagne retails at around $400 a bottle. In all the Mugabe family is rated over £1bn in assets and accounts spread in Switzerland, the Channel Islands, the Bahamas to Castles in Scotland.

    It is still amazing why Zimbabweans turned theirs eyes away from the splurgy Mugabe family until lately. Well, as is always said, there will always be a pay-day-time. Does Mugabe deserve what he is getting? Yes! But probably not a way to end a glorious life. Any lessons for the remaining and bludgeoning African despots?

  • Daniel Obior

    Two small points. First is that somehow we are very good at messing up things in Africa. Coups are such a low phenomenon in the realms of governance, universally. Even as low as coups are, we have now also debased it in Africa, through the Zimbabwe experience. Coup plotters in a tete-a -tete with their target presents the most ridiculous impression of the objectives of coups.
    Secondly, an appeal for the intervention of the international community, suggested in the last paragraph of this article is most unfortunate. The words “International Community” is a misnomer. Too often have the views and actions of the western world been taken as that of the international community. The so called international community, which really is the west, was as responsible for the suffering of the Zimbabwean people as Mugabe the dictator. The west is just as culpable for the punishing sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in the last 15 years, just because Mugabe dispossessed the minority whites in Zimbabwe of the land they stole from the black. The Zimbabwean people should be left to sort out their problems and kick out Mugabe. The so called International Community should keep off.

    • Eberechi Jinanwa

      Dr. Reuben Abati has done justice to the Zimbabwean present political crisis. I support his call for Mugabe to go and he must go. All those African leaders (Nigeria inclusive) that are urging the revolutionist to tread with caution should rather appeal to President Mugabe to resign,his time is up.

      • Daniel Obior

        I also support the call for Mugabe to go. But there should be no role in this by the international community as suggested by Abati. The international community (the west) is a part of the problem.

    • Michael Kadiri SocioPolitical

      My broda,

      Mugabe and his military accomplices so damaged Zimbabwe by themselves, that the undoubted hand of the West can and must be discounted.

      The truth is that Zimbabwe was never a democracy and this coup appears like wet toast because the military forcibly removing Mugabe is like the military removing itself. Hence the dilly dallying and looking stupid in front of the whole world.

      Emmerson Mnangagwa is also not the answer and so it pains me when I see Zimbabweans celebrating on the streets. Just like we shouted to the Libyans at the time, careful what you wish for. This fella is the Abacha of Zimbabwe.

      Now that Zimbabweans have got their voice and finally seem brave enough to protest, they should change the title of the protest and kick out the whole Zanu PF machinery. Because it is the party (a military political party no less) that has brought Zimbabwe to this sorry state – not white people and not Robert Mugabe on his own.

      • Daniel Obior

        No sir, you cannot discount the punishing sanctions of the west, in as much as Mugabe is culpable. Zimbabwe has suffered from the combination of both effects. Saddam Hussein for instance was a horrible dictator, but the economy of Iraq prospered before the punishing sanctions of the west. On too many instances have countries been messed up by the intervention of the so called international community (the West). From Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya and even to Iran. Zimbabwe should be left to sort out itself. I must agree with you that ZANU-PF may not be the answer. But the opposition led by a stooge of the west is not either.

        • Michael Kadiri SocioPolitical

          My instincts are to rile against meddling by the West. All the examples you gave cause us to rightly question their motives.

          But, this is separate from the fact that Mugabe has remained in office for nearly 40 years. He is 93 (my Zimbabwean friends say he is older). He is head of a quasi military force cum political party that has killed, imprisoned and kidnapped political opposition, he has done the classic African response to injustice by cutting his nose to spite his face when he destroyed farming in this once bread basket of Africa.

          At the end of the day, the people come first and imagine if Mandela had done the same, because the same issues of land ownership exist in South Africa. What would have happened to the rainbow nation? Yes not all the blacks in South Africa have benefitted from the end of apartheid but they are surely better off than their Zimbabwean neighbours whose President fought the West with his heart and not his head.

          And i think that on the first consideration, we are both agreed that he should go. If his stubbornness gets him killed, I for one will shed no tears.


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