Gaddafi may the biggest story right now. But we will soon realize that there will be more sequels to follow. After Asia, Africa might be the next logical step for an economic take off. But for that to be possible, Africa must rid itself from its many Gaddafis. And Robert Mugabe sure makes that list!
Obama’s popularity ratings might not be high any more, but Mr. Mugabe is flying high as he was ranked as the World’s Top (Worst, of course) Dictator. He could have been another Nelson Mandela that Africa desperately needed. He was the torchbearer of the liberation movement against minority white rule and he emerged as a hero in the minds of many Africans in 1979 when Zimbabwe was finally independent. In 1980 Mugabe was overwhelmingly elected to power and this is where the similarities end. Mugabe seemed to like Hitler more than Mandela. Mugabe steered his country through a period of early decline (1980 – 1999) whose major highlights were union struggles, torturing any opposition, increasing autocracy in public sector and a weakening economy.
Then Mugabe felt that the pace was not enough. So he decided to unleash the period of deep decline (1999 – 2008) on Zimbabwe. And the star this time was “Land Issues”. Mugabe redistributed land as if he was playing a game of Monopoly. Hyperinflation, fuel shortage, drought, food crisis and epidemic also made their presence felt. While life expectancy declined since 1990 from 60 to 42 years, Mugabe was going strong at 84. Inflation in Zimbabwe is so bad that the Government recently released a 50 billion (Zimbabwe dollars!) note just enough to buy 2 loaves of bread. Unemployment rate has gone beyond 85%. Mugabe finally agreed to hold an election in 2008 (how very generous of him). Well you wish! Apparently, he would accept the result only if he won. His supporters killed 163 in the opposition and tortured 5000 and after a “recount”, Mugabe miraculously assumed power again.
But now problems in Zimbabwe have reached such crisis proportions in the areas of living standards and public health that has caught lot of international attention and is causing internal uprisings. Mugabe was first forced so share power with the opposition in late 2008 which might be the first signal that the end may be near. He is up for elections again now and the opposition is so strong now that it can no longer be suppressed by torture. Mugabe has to be more creative than that.
His continued hold on power is a testament to his own wiles and the “mind your elders” deference the international community once showed him. But the people of Zimbabwe have made no such assurances. Mr. Mugabe: I think that there is a difference in being “old” and being “wise”. You can still choose to be “wise”. But you must hurry or you will be too “old” for that!