Is Mugabe Africa’s most notorious leader?

Friday November 20 2009


Apart from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — who recently hired 100 women in Rome for lessons in Islam — Zimbabwe’s Robert Gabriel Garigamombe Mugabe is the most notorious African leader.

Mugabe is a leader who is fully in charge of his country despite a power-sharing agreement with the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

To prove that he is the one calling the shots, any story about Mr Mugabe in any state media must state clearly that he is “Head of State and Government, and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.”

Further, Mr Mugabe insists on attending UN meetings in Rome or New York despite the fact that sanctions imposed on him by the European Union and the US mean that he ends up being confined to the conference venue or his hotel.

The sanctions, imposed in 2002 mean that Mugabe cannot go on a state visit or even holiday in Europe.

Ask Mugabe’s wife Grace about shopping and the answer lies in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. Mr Mugabe’s first born daughter, Bona is at a university in Hong Kong.

It is not unusual that Grace demands some little pocket money from the Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank for a shopping trip. The last time this was publicly reported, it was $30,000 (Sh2.2 million). The Reserve Bank governor Dr Gideon Gono is the Mugabe family’s personal banker.

Amid the crisis caused by Mugabe’s seizure of white farms, the country’s rate of inflation rose to 231 million last year and the highest denomination note printed by Zimbabwe was 100 trillion.

But, at the same time, Zimbabwe was able to clear its IMF loan thanks to seized foreign currency accounts that belong to Non-Governmental Organisations. The NGOs are yet to be paid despite protests to the Finance Ministry.

Born in February 1924, Mr Mugabe is now 85 years old and there are no signs that he wants to retire.

Precedents Mugabe has set before points to the fact that he wants to die in office. In the past, Mugabe refused to allow three of his deputies to retire even when they had become incapacitated.

They include Dr Joshua Nkomo, Mr Simon Muzenda and Mr Joseph Msika who all died in office. Mugabe believes Western governments want to remove him from power and that’s one of the reasons he wants to hang on to power. He wouldn’t want to be seen as having succumbed to Western pressure.

The sector of the economy that has suffered most under Mugabe’s rule is agriculture. Prior to 2000, Zimbabwe was one of the leading exporters of tobacco worldwide and also exported maize and flowers.

After the purge on white farmers, Zimbabwe’s maize production has fallen from two million tonnes to 500,000 tonnes.

Grab the limelight

Meanwhile, the best hope for Zimbabwe’s opposition of ever taking power, lies in the drafting of a new constitution that would reduce Mugabe’s powers.

In the meantime, Premier Tsvangirai has to put up with a security apparatus that is still dominated by war veterans who feel threatened by any new order.

But at least Mugabe has handed over control of the country’s Finance Ministry and the police to Mr Tsvangirai’s party.

Mr Tendai Biti, Secretary-General of the MDC, is in charge of the Finance docket, must now revive the country’s economy, clean up Mugabe’s mess as he waits for the next international summit where he can grab the limelight.

Henry Owuor is Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs writer, Daily Nation