In different parts of Africa, local folklore is a way of life, especially in the rural areas. Most of the evenings are enjoyed with children listening to various fascinating folktales. Aside their huge entertaining perspective, local fables also teach several morals that tend to help shape children into holding the right standpoints in life. Of all local tales that are told across Africa, the ones revolving around the tortoise seem to be quite thrilling. By casting tortoise in the mould of a shrewd, tricky and sly character, tortoise stories are always full of intrigues and suspense.
However, one thing that recurs in all of tortoise tales is that the animal often ends up being a victim of its own deceitful designs. In one of its famous accounts that I could still very much recall, tortoise was about to embark on a journey and was asked when it would return from the trip. Characteristically, its response was quite intriguing: Not until I am disgraced. And that was exactly what happened.
There is, of course, a huge parallel between the aforementioned tortoise’s tale and the story of (erstwhile?) Zimbabwean strongman, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. According to tales coming out of the country, Zimbabwe’s military leaders have seized control of the poor southern African nation, placing its life-leader, Mugabe, under house arrest and deploying tanks to the streets of the capital, Harare. In a dramatic televised statement in the early morning of the day that saw Africa relapsed into the Stone Age, a Zimbabwean army spokesman denied that a military takeover was underway. But the situation bore all the trappings of a coup: The military was in control of state TV in Harare, there was a significant army presence at the international airport, and Mugabe has not been seen in public.
The military official further explained that the president and his wife were secure, adding that they were targeting a ring of government plotters following a power struggle that saw the vice-president flee the country last week. The address came hours after several loud explosions echoed across central Harare and troops seized the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster. Several cabinet ministers, including local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were reportedly arrested.
There was allegedly a brief gun-fight outside Mr Chombo’s house. All three are part of the G40 faction of Zanu-PF which is loyal to Grace Mugabe, wife of the president, who was being lined up to take over from her husband after Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was recently fired. To some keen watchers of events in Zimbabwe, if Mugabe is eventually overthrown from power, it is merely a tale of good radiance to bad rubbish. Robert Mugabe, 93, has been the country’s ruler since 1980.
Undoubtedly, Mugabe has defined the history of his country. Born in the colonial era, he actually witnessed the various complications of colonial rule in his native land. He was at the forefront of a bitter struggle to end white minority rule in Zimbabwe. He was imprisoned for 11 years by the colonial government for their anti-colonial activities. As providence would have it, he had the rare honour of leading his country to independence and actually became the first post-colonial black leader of the country.
As good as his anti-colonialist exploits were, Mugabe was however beclouded by a faulty sense of judgment after becoming his country’s leader. He launched ceaseless attacks on all whites in the country, majority of whom controlled the country’s economy. Unfortunately, Mugabe’s onslaught was not only against the whites in his country as the various black opposition groups, opposed to his prolonged stronghold on power, have had to contend with serious realties of his iron hold on power. Rather than concentrate on policies and programmes that would usher in the much needed prosperity for his people, Mugabe was majorly preoccupied with building a fortress for himself.
Regrettably, he didn’t do much to improve the worsening economic condition of his people who continue to live in abject poverty as all economic indicators keep pointing to a nation on the brink of socio-economic collapse, no thanks to Mugabe’s uncompromising and tactless stance towards western creditors. It is rather sad that by perpetuating himself in power, Mugabe has rubbished every effort he made in the past towards fighting colonial overlords in his country. The assumption that no one else but him could steer the ship of the country, at 93, is nothing but a charade as he is no super human. The tragedy of the African continent is that most of its leaders, especially those who have little or nothing to offer the people, have continued to tow the ignoble path of authoritarianism.
Is it not funny that most of the leaders whose stay in power have pauperized their people would rather prefer to die in power rather than giving opportunities to others with fresh ideas to rule? For those who argue that Mugabe’s prolonged hold on power is as a result of the love and affection his people have for him, they need to be reminded that Mandela was equally held in high esteem by South Africans across racial divide. But the difference is that he knew when to quit. That is one of the hallmarks of a great leader. A good leader should know when to quit. Perhaps, more importantly, a good leader must invest quality time and resources in developing new crop of leaders for the purpose of progress and stability. This is where Mandela differs remarkably from Mugabe and other similar sit-tight African leaders.
At 93, isn’t it so obvious that Mugabe needed a break? But no, to him, power has become nothing but an obsession. Historically, leaders like him always have eccentric wives that spur them on in the macabre naked dance. Having ruled (misruled?) his country for 37 years; does it not speak volume of his frame of mind that he was lining up his wife as his possible successor? To him, it is no longer about the good of the people but about what he thinks is good for the people. Though military putsch isn’t actually a civilised option, in-spite of Mugabe’s excesses. But then, Mugabe was himself not too good at civility. The truth of the matter is that Zimbabwe and her people deserve a brand new beginning. Perhaps, this could be it!