by CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO (Daily Nation)
Hearing it being told, Zimbabwe’s Big Man Robert Mugabe is an insane old man who should be locked up in a mental asylum, not running a country.
Writers, like this columnist, have been challenged to acknowledge the “good side” of Mugabe. So we did.
Recently I watched a documentary of the DR Congo’s thieving former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. The programme revealed that Mobutu liked to hit on his ministers’ and ambassadors’ wives, and would take them off to his room as they watched.
Mugabe started dating his present wife, Grace, who is 40 years his junior, when she was a secretary at State House, and his wife Sally was ailing. Grace Marufu, as she was then known, was married to Flight Lt Patrick Guririza.
When Mugabe decided to take Grace as his, he didn’t do as Uganda’s former dictator (and friend of Mobutu) Field Marshal Idi Amin did when he set eyes upon the beautiful Sarah Kyolaba. Idi was immediately smitten, but like a good general, he first inquired about the competition.
He was told Sarah had a boyfriend, a fashionable musician of the time. Idi sent his boys round to the fellow’s house a few nights later, and he was never seen again, leaving him to take Sarah as his youngest (she reportedly also became his favourite) wife without any rival lurking in the shadows.
Compared to Mobutu who grabbed many people’s wives, Mugabe stole only one. And compared to Amin, he didn’t kill Flt-Lt Guririza. He exiled him to China as a diplomat. So in those two regards, Mugabe is far better than Amin and Mobutu.
Now, for those who are too young to remember, in 1980 a young sergeant in the Liberian army called Samuel Doe seized power in a coup. He was, like many African military dictators of his time, an appalling ruler. Rebellion broke out in his country. One of the rebel leaders was another strange man, Prince Johnson.
As Doe’s forces succumbed to the rebels, the man was still hanging around in the presidential palace. The story goes that, sensing danger, Doe hurriedly arranged a helicopter for a last-minute escape. However, the presidential guard, realising that he was leaving them to be killed for his sins, detained him and said they were not going to be left to “die alone”.
So it was that in September 1990, the rebels captured Doe. They stripped him naked, tied his hands behind his back, and begun torturing him. In a video that was widely circulated at the time, and that didn’t do the image of Africa much good, Prince Johnson is shown ordering his men to chop off a bloodied Doe’s ear and stuff it in his mouth.
Having killed Doe, the rebels fought over his intimate bits, heart and liver which they ate raw in the belief that all his powers would be transferred to them.
Now, compare that to how Mugabe has treated opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. In the first round of the elections, Mugabe’s supporters and police beat up and intimidated the opposition and mugged them of some of their votes.
Still, they had sufficient decency left. They didn’t steal enough to deny Tsvangirai victory. They only rigged it to prevent him getting the more than 50 per cent required by law.
A few weeks earlier, Zanu-PF goons had set upon Tsvangirai and beaten him senseless, leaving him with huge gashes on the head, closed eyes, and a major limp. Still, he lived to win the first round. If it had been Liberia, Tsvangirai would have had his ears cut off, killed, and then the remnants eaten.
You have to give Mugabe his due.
You might say it’s partly because of sanctions against him, but unlike other presidents, Mugabe spends a lot of his time in Zimbabwe. In that way he’s definitely better than Cameroon’s strongman Paul Biya.
In the last few years, Biya has lived mostly in France although he remains president. He returns to Cameroon for brief periods (perhaps to collect money from the Central Bank). But for sure, whenever elections are up, he comes, rigs the poll, and goes back to France.
There are those who say that, in the process, Biya has become the first truly hi-tech African president — he rules by remote control. Without the options of Biya, Mugabe has built his palaces in the outskirts of Harare, not on the Riviera.
Finally, there is Mugabe’s friend, former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who has lived in exile in Zimbabwe since he was deposed nearly 18 years ago. It’s estimated Mengistu killed at least 1.5 million people during his cruel rule.
On the other hand, when he was faced by the Matabeleland-based rebellion against his rule between 1982 and 1983, Mugabe unleashed the notorious Fifth Brigade to quash it. More than 20,000 people were killed.
It might well be that Mugabe harbours Mengistu to remind himself that he is “not as bad”. His regime killed “only” 20,000 people, as opposed to the former Ethiopian hard man who dispatched 1.5 million.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008
by CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO (Daily Nation)