A remarkable event occurred during the rebirth Conference of the African Bar Association that took place from 4th to 7th September 2016 in Harare Zimbabwe based on which I will can authoritatively make a personal assessment of the personality of the departed President Robert Mugabe. Some members of the opposition party and civil society activists who organized a demonstration against the government of President Mugabe and were detained by the Police were ordered released by a High Court in Harare but the government failed to execute the court order arguing that it had appealed against the court order.
The matter was reported to the African Bar Association by our colleagues of the Zimbabwe Bar and some members of the aggrieved political party and civil society activists. The African Bar Association summoned the Attorney General of Zimbabwe and told him to respect the court order and he promptly obliged, and the detained persons were immediately released. This is unprecedented in many countries that purport to hold the keys to democratic constitutional governance where the rule of law informs governmental action. Hardly, particularly in Africa, where the politicization and militarization of justice are the staying powers of dictatorial regimes.
I found in this circumstance that the role of law operated in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe despite the excruciating sanctions imposed by the supposed democratic world which greatly stifled the economy of Zimbabwe and rendered its currency almost useless. The police intervention to abate the demonstrations in which the opposition officials and civil society activists were arrested, while condemnable, did not lead to the extensive bloodletting and destruction that is the hallmark of what I may venture to now call African vampiric endemic dictatorships.
If the question were asked to supposed gatekeepers and town criers of democracy, whether Robert Mugabe was a saint or sinner? Many of them will be impeded by the biblical injunction of who has not sin throwing the first stone from providing an answer.
Let me begin with Great Britain. The Lancaster House Agreement was intended to address a historical wrong caused against the people of Zimbabwe by Great Britain. A critical issue that Robert Mugabe placed on the table for determination was that of land reform. That issue was central to the independence issue, because independence per se without a determination of the land ownership problem would have been meaningless.
The saying in my Bangwa ancestral land of birth that land is life is not a subject of reasonable controversy in Africa. Otumba T.O.S Benson, the distinguished colorful Nigerian stateman and First Republic Minister of Information aptly stated that “land belongs to people, some dead, others alive and others unborn”. In putting the land reform issue on the table of negotiation when others were more concerned with power for the sake of power, Robert Mugabe distinguished himself as a visionary leader who was closer to the heartbeat of his people’s realistic humanity. Without land reforms, independence per se would be deceitful and meaningless, call it a scam for it would tantamount to granting sovereignty over land that did not belong to most of the people. Also, it would permanently deprive most of the people rights to their ancestral lands.
History retains that it was the offers made by the British and American governments to compensate white citizens who sold land held by them no matter how it was originally obtained, to facilitate reconciliation, so-called the “Willing buyer, Willing seller” principle that pressurized Robert Mugabe to reluctantly sign the Lancaster Agreement. He signed on the condition that the land reform he sought and obtained the assurances about would occur after ten years. The funding that was to operate it from 1980 to 1990 by the American and British governments and their pledged support for the land reforms after ten years failed to materialize. They and not Mugabe reneged on their pledges on the land reform issue which was a central issue in the Lancaster House Agreement. This was the powder keg that ignited the disagreement between Mugabe and the West leading to the land seizures and the elaborate sanction regime imposed by the West and the campaign to “satanize” Mugabe. This brings back the question: Was Mugabe a saint or sinner? Can the land issue and related human rights violations based on which the sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe be blamed on Mugabe?
I submit that to the extent that Robert Mugabe made the land reform issue a critical component of the Lancaster House Agreement, he should be judged based on how the agreement reached was executed and not based on western media reports and ideologically tainted propaganda.
From a dispassionate examination of this issue, Mugabe comes out as a principled, honest, patriotic, visionary and a selfless crusader for justice for his people. He must be praised and not maligned.
Zimbabwe lies in economic ruins not because Mugabe desired it that way, but because of the sanctions that were unjustly imposed by the very powers that initiated and violated the Lancaster Agreement to the detriment of the people of Zimbabwe. Keen observers will conclude that the Zimbabwe sanction regime intended to cripple, and it indeed cripple the economy of Zimbabwe hoping to bring Mugabe on his knees for him to run begging for a return of Ian Smith or for a recolonization of Zimbabwe. The revolutionary that he was, Comrade Mugabe kept faith with his liberation ideology and refused to betray the independence of his people that he fought for through blood and toil.
The persons to whom he handed over seized land might not have had the resources to develop the lands due in part to the sanctions emplaced to stifle the economy and cause potential regime change. The change of regime occurred. However, those who think that the present government or others to come in future will erase or reverse the imprints of Mugabe on land reforms or his ideological freedom agenda in Zimbabwe should be ready for a long wait.
Mugabe was a commanding continental voice on economic sovereignty and resistance to the recolonization of Africa through unbalanced trade deals such as the Doha rounds of negotiations, reinvigorated neo-colonial onslaught on the continent, emerging challenges such as climate change, immigration, endemic diseases, and regime change.
Robert Mugabe was loved and hated in equal measure. Those who hated him did so passionately although they hardly ever provided cogent reasons to justify their hate. When challenged to do so, they caricatured him as a brutal dictator. Compared with dictators in the continent who are sustained and supported by the same powers that passionately resented Mugabe, Mugabe can be said to be a saint. He did not deploy the armed forces of his country to turn their guns to slaughter the people he swore to defend and protect when he came to power. He kept faith with his oath in this regard. He did not auction out the natural resources of his country to Western or Eastern economic predators for personal gain as it is the case in many African dictatorships. No matter how he was perceived, he compelled overt and covert respect from his admirers and haters alike. Indeed, everyone will find something good to say about him now that he is dead.
Mugabe is dead but history has chatted a place for him among great Africa leaders and liberation revolutionaries of all times such as the Osegyfo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Kambarege Dr Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Milton Obote, Samora Marshal, Aghostino Neto, Nelson Mandela, Oum Nyobe, Ernest Ouandie, Thomas Sankara, Augustine Ngom Jua, Dr EML Endeley, Dr Bate Besong and many others. Africa has lost a great revolutionary leader. His shoes will hard to fill.
Chief Charles A. Taku