The excuse that is being peddled for why former Zimbabwean president (Al Jazeera TV guest: “It sounds funning saying that.”) Robert Mugabe should not be tried is that he is an old man. At 93, Mugabe is indeed old but there are very good reasons why he should be tried for slaughtering his own people, looting the national treasury and generally presiding over a monstrous kakistocracy.
With as many university degrees (Bachelor of Arts from University of Fort Hare, Bachelor of Administration and Bachelor of Education from the University of South Africa as well as Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Laws, Master of Science, and Master of Laws from the University of London) as he has, Mugabe was the world’s most educated president. Someone that educated will certainly have encountered a biology lesson on the aging process in human beings. So, Mugabe knew that he would get old one day.
What Mugabe did was criminal and he knew that all along because Zimbabwe’s laws are codified. The laws stipulate penalties for wrongdoing and nowhere does Zimbabwean law say that one can be exempted from these penalties because of their age. Otherwise there would be a sustained crime wave by senior citizens. However, let us suppose though that Mugabe didn’t know that he was committing criminal offences by ordering OperationGukurahundi in which tens of thousands of Ndebele people were massacred. Even Zimbabwe, as in Botswana, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
As in Setswana culture in which molato ga o bole (a crime doesn’t rot), Mugabe own culture expresses similar sentiment with the Shona equivalent,mhosva hairovi. There is actually a police programme on Radio Zimbabwe called Mhovsa Hairovi. Mugabe’s crimes have not rotted, especially that his victims will never live down the memory of the brutalization they suffered under him. In both its traditional law and the Roman-Dutch law it inherited from its British colonial masters, Zimbabwe subscribes to the principle of retributive justice which places the interests of the victims before those of the culprits. Giving Mugabe immunity reverses this order.
Two men in East Africa (one a prot├®g├® of the other, both kakistocratic) would be watching developments in Zimbabwe with unusually keen interest. The prot├®g├® is Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, who has unleashed a reign of terror on his people, especially members of the opposition. His last opponent in the last general election is now being tried for what are believed to be trumped up charges. The United States war crimes office has warned Kagame that he could face prosecution at the International Criminal Court. Like Mugabe, Kagame ÔÇô whose personal wealth is estimated at US$500 million, is looting the country. Last year, he he engineered a process to abolish presidential term limits and could be in office until 2034 when he might rule again for another 17 years. His teacher is Yoweri Museveni, who is, to all intents and purpose, Uganda’s life president. He is also filthy rich and very brutal.
Kagame and Museveni know they could have a fate similar to Mugabe’s and would be watching and learning. One lesson they would have learnt so far is that you avoid prosecution for heinous crimes if you stay very long in presidential office such that when you are ousted, you are a frail old man that nobody would want to prosecute. Unlike Mugabe, both don’t have university degrees but would know from their secondary school biology classes that the human body ages irreversibly.
Mugabe’s immunity emboldens the savagery and greed of leaders who have no intention of changing their ways. If there is anything you can bet on, it is that Kagame and Museveni will kill more people and loot the treasury because what happened with Mugabe gives them conscious hope that they will also be forgiven on account of advanced age. One of the three principles of deterrence theory is that offenders and those contemplating crime must be convinced that non-conforming behaviour will carry sure and certain consequences. Prosecuting Mugabe would have had a deterrence value. On the other hand, pardoning kakistocratic conduct on account of age creates an artificial loophole that the culprits will exploit to no end.
Those who say that Mugabe should be forgiven because he is old are actually thinking of innocent 93-year olds people they know. They are not thinking of the heinous crimes committed but of the frailty of people that age. However, it is important to realise that Mugabe is in a completely different class. He didn’t extract immunity from the coup leaders because his presidential convoy ran red lights in central Harare or because he misspelled his name on national registration card application forms. He murdered people, something that normal 93 year olds haven’t done.
Not only was forgiving Mugabe a grave mistake, there is also a context in which such action shows no respect for God. It is okay to forgive someone for accidentally bumping into you at a Vee show but it is blasphemous to forgive someone for slaughtering over 30 000. Only God can forgive such kind of sinning and in forgiving Mugabe, the Zimbabwean army generals clothed themselves with powers that God didn’t delegate even to Jesus Christ.
There was similar outpouring of sympathy in 2011 for Egyptian strongman, Hosni Mubarak, who claimed to have suffered a “heart attack” after being toppled and arrested. You grow a heart in the womb, not when you have lived for 83 years. The heart is the centre of humanity and source of virtue. It is a tool through which we express our abler selves and commune with God. If you are going to suffer a heart attack, you must, in the first place, have demonstrated in deed that you have a heart. If you have slaughtered thousands of people, you certainly don’t have a heart and can’t have a heart attack.