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08 Nov 2015

We all have our own heroes who we admire for reasons different from what inspires our fellow compatriots.

What other people call freedom fighters are known as terrorists in other quarters. Those labelled extremists in other countries are viewed as nationalists by others.

Africa, indeed, has a full complement of terrorists, freedom fighters, extremists and nationalists. Still, agreeing on what to call them is as impossible as clarifying what their efforts mean to people who are supposed to have benefitted or suffered from the efforts of these men and women.

It follows, therefore, that Yasser Arafat was viewed as both a terrorist and freedom fighter.So was Che Guevara.

In pursuit of their convictions, they, like so many others, followed andpursued their beliefs to lengths that won them both friends and foes. Indeed, such individuals always stir emotion among people, in and outside their homelands.

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, for some reason, finds himself as the stirrer of divided emotions in people both at home and abroad.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with admiring the most wicked of the world’s individuals because they mean different things to different people.

I personally find it intriguing that as soon as I answer that I am originally from Zimbabwe, people nod their heads and smile at me then add, “Mugabe”, as if to endear themselves well with me. It is painful to see that Zimbabwe is more known for Mugabe’s notoriety than for its own wonderful sake.

Through a mixture of exaggerations, propaganda, packaging and lies, Mugabe is quite known as a freedom fighter and liberator yet the truth has always been there in plain sight.

Before we give accolades to any leader, we must, of necessity, take a cue from his people. It boggles the mind why Mugabe is praised more outside his own country. While his populist rhetoric fooled many outside Zimbabwe, it fools few at home where thousands lost thousands of their relatives and where thousands more are unaccounted for – all lost in a devilish effort to immortalise a man whose popularity evaporated starting just at a time when he supposedly “liberated” Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is a sorry nation today. The nation has suffered abundantly under Mugabe.

We lost all we had and failed to even maintain what we inherited from the colonial government.

We used to export just about everything, including agricultural products, to Africa and beyond, now we beg for thousands of tons of food to feed our people and when Zimbabwe gets the food, Mugabe gives his supporters the food and denies it to those suspected of supporting other political parties.

It is most unfortunate that people outside Zimbabwe do not understand the acrimony between Mugabe and the Zimbabwean people as they continue giving him standing ovations when he has completely destroyed not only the nation but thousands of people over a forced 35-year rule.

The sight of Mugabe bobbing his head as he dozed sitting next to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni a few days ago at the inauguration of John Pombe Magufuli, Tanzania’s new president, makes one want to cry with shame.

Why does Africa keep encouraging this man – old, senile and unable to put in half-a-day’s work – is beyond me.

Is it true that there are people out there who actually believe they can learn anything positive from a man who has murdered so many of his own people and who has completely destroyed the once vibrant economy of his country?

So he was in Tanzania to witness the 5th peaceful handing over of power from one president to another while Mugabe himself has been in power since 1980 and, at 91, refuses to even discuss who might succeed him but, instead, wants to run for another 5-year term in three years’ time.

While other countries hold elections and serve two terms, Mugabe rigs elections and goes on a violent spree against people.

This week, Tanzania joined a growing list of African countries that haveseen peaceful presidential transitions. Countries like Zambia, Malawi and Kenya have given hope that Africa is capable of fairly good elections and peaceful transitions.

These few instances have done us a lot of good and have clearly defined that political thuggery and violence in Africa are isolated incidents perpetrated by rogue individuals, like Mugabe.

It was sad to see him fallen asleep during the inauguration ceremony.

I was honestly embarrassed for Mugabe.

But what was a violent, out of touch 91-year-old, who has been grotesquely clinging to power for 35 years, doing at a swearing in ceremony of a 56-year-old whose predecessor, President JakayaKikwete, upheld a tradition of serving two terms and stepping aside for a new leader?

Mugabe no longer appears to be ashamed of bulldozing his way into gatherings where many hosts would rather not have him come. Invited or not, he should consider what his presence does to other people’s functions as he almost always draws negative attention to himself and all those horror stories we hear of every day.

In most cases, his presence spoils other people’s gatherings by drawing attention to him for all the wrong reasons, including his much talked about age, violence against unarmed civilians, overstaying in the presidency, the ill treatment of his own citizens and other unsavory issues.

Then there is always the embarrassment of falling asleep and tumbling on his way to or from the podium, something he did again last week in India.

No matter how loud and sweet we bang the drums, there comes a time to quit and simply watch and enjoy from the sidelines.

Mugabe is denying himself the elder statesman status; he is denying the younger leaders the reservoir of knowledge that they would otherwise tap into for guidance and reference when unsure about the direction the nation should take.

He is denying us his wisdom and lessons leant through experience.

Today, saying his name is enough to send people scurrying for cover and that is a legacy that will endure long after his demise...if only he knew when to quit.

Mugabe attended Magufuli’s inauguration ostensibly as Chairman of the African Union and the AU needs to think what this kind of thing does not only to itself but to Africa as a whole.

The decisions that the AU makes should be consistent with the intentions of the continent as a whole. Picking 91-year-olds as leaders when the continent is bursting with young, intelligent minds is the poorest judgment an organization of this stature could make.

There is nothing that Mugabe can teach a nation, let alone a continent. If the African Union is to move on, it has to redirect itself and get serious with the full understanding that Africa’s population,as of 2013, was 1.1 billion and 40 percent of these were under 15 years old. Fifty percent of Africans were born in 1991 or later, 11 years after Mugabe had become president of Zimbabwe.

Now, what, in today’s fast moving world full of technology, can a 91-year-old teach a 15 year-old?

The tragedy in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa must be blamed on Africa itself.

The African Union and all other continental organisations must take responsibility and direct Africa in a new direction by ushering in younger minds to keep Africa in competition.

People like Mugabe have done their part, for better or worse, and the continent must move on. 

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