Africa has been witnessing a spate of change of governments lately. I am very encouraged with the orderly manner in which peaceful transitions were handled in Zambia, Malawi and, most recently, in Kenya.
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.
Two weeks ago, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader and the world’s second oldest after Shimon Peres of Israel, attended the inauguration of Kenya’s youngest president ever.
I was honestly embarrassed for Mugabe.
What was a violent, out of touch 89-year-old, who has been grotesquely clinging to power for more than three decades, doing at a swearing in ceremony of a 51-year-old whose predecessor President Mwai Kibaki had, at 81, seen it fit to pass the baton to ‘a younger generation of leaders’?
This came a couple of months after Pope Benedict XVI broke with tradition and announced his retirement at 85, saying his body and health no longer allowed him to carry out his duties as expected.
About 18 months ago, Zambia held peaceful elections and the defeated candidate, Rupia Banda, bowed out gracefully, urging his supporters to work even harder for the new administration.
Mugabe went to Zambia for that peaceful transition of leadership.
Mugabe went to the Vatican to see the new Pontiff who had become Pope after his predecessor, who was much younger than Mugabe, had stepped down because of age.
Mugabe went to Kenya to see President Kibaki, eight years Mugabe’s junior, hand over power to a much younger 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 everyday.
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 unsavoury issues.
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.
“I am happy to pass the torch of leadership to the new generation of?leaders,” outgoing President Mwai Kibaki said at the inauguration in Mugabe’s presence. “I wish to state that as I exit the stage of leadership, I have no doubt in my mind that the country is in good hands. Kenyans and the international community should give them space and support to enable them to exercise their presidential mandate.”
Losing candidate Raila Odinga had some gripes with the way the elections were conducted and went to court. The court reached its decision in favour of Kenyatta.
“The court has now spoken,” Odinga said after the verdict. “I wish the president-elect and his team well.”
That simple act alone will endear Odinga well with his people in future should he again wish to offer himself for consideration for his country’s presidency.
And, the very following Saturday, Kenyatta and his vice hosted Odinga and his deputy at State House, a move towards uniting the nation after a gruelling campaign.
Photos of the four men laughing and joking at State House will forever haunt my conscience, wishing as I do, to see it happening in my country one day.
I salute the Kenyans for turning a corner and for their ability and willingness to accept what their majority, however slim, had decided upon.
We, in Zimbabwe, are also in the midst of preparing for elections this year.
“Tsvangirai has sabotaged this country. He is an agent of the devil who is bent on confusing our graduates to become subjects of the devil,” said Jabulani Sibanda, Mugabe’s lighting rod of violence, last week. “If we see anyone with an MDC-T party card, that person is a sell-out and they deserve to be added to the unenviable list of the devil’s servants. Down with MDC-T, down with Tsvangirai.”
The man was addressing students, for goodness sake, but no one in his party admonished him.
“God has one leader, who is Mugabe, and one party, ZANU-PF…I hate whites,” said Sibanda to the students. He threatened violence again should ZANU-PF lose the forthcoming elections this year.
Mugabe issued no statement distancing himself from this vitriol.
Is it because he accepts what Sibanda was saying and doing? Is it that he has become irrelevant and out of touch with the nation? This certainly is not the party that was formed in his absence in 1963.
A few weeks ago, Mugabe told state media that he now feels lonely both at home and in government, stating that he is now surrounded by “small people” he cannot relate with on an equal footing because of age difference.
“They are gone (his age-mates) and those who remain, you look down upon them because they are young. They have not had the same experience, the same length of life and, therefore…you can’t discuss with them things that happened in the 1930s or even 1950s. They will not know. There is that limitation.”
Limitation, indeed! Well said, Mr President.
To paraphrase your statements for you, Sir, all you mean is that you should have retired a long, long time ago.
Mugabe cannot wish on the youngsters of 2013 how he did things in the 1930s.
Mugabe’s continued presence in politics is a selfish, self-serving exercise that benefits neither himself nor the nation.
Mugabe should do the nation some good and quit right now to give younger minds in his party the opportunity of healing Zimbabwe.
Did Mugabe learn anything at Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration? You bet he did because, at 89, he is running again later this year and hopes for young Kenyatta to come to his inauguration later this year.