Mugabe: Not As Black As He’s Painted

On Monday -with what seems to me unseemly haste- the Dutch First Chamber, Senate, Upper House or whatever you want to call this collection of 75 creaking elder statesmen and women gave the go-ahead for Dutch ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The road is now clear for our head of state Queen Beatrix, to affix the royal signature to the document and deliver what used to be a free, independent nation into the hands of a bunch of unelected power-crazed foreigners in Brussels. Funny thing is: the Queen, unlike the presidents of Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria, cannot refuse to sign. Many many years ago, for what seemed very good reasons at the time, the Dutch made sure the monarchy became a purely ceremonial affair and stripped the Palace of all executive powers. The advantage was mutual: the important political decisions would henceforth be taken by the democratically elected representatives of the people, while the monarch was no longer required to risk his life leading his troops into battle or send his henchmen round the country to extort money from the poor. There’s now a government with a popular mandate to do it for him..or her.

Brilliant thing, democracy. Once you’ve tasted its benefits you want everybody else to enjoy it too. So strong is our urge to draw the world’s oppressed and disenfranchised into our wonderland of “a general election every five years; that’s all you get so shut up and consume” that we’re willing to cause merry hell in many parts of the globe. Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia are among the countries with first-hand experience of our selfless drive to spread sweetness, light and the Big Brother franchise throughout the known universe. Next, I hear you say, must surely be Zimbabwe, whose hapless citizens live every day that god gives under the cosh of a cruel dictator, a madman who is worse than -or at least as bad as- Hitler, an evil fiend who, with malice aforethought, brought his country to the brink of ruin. No wonder that the leaders of the G8, gathered on Hokkaido to address the huge economic and environmental problems that threaten us, took time out to call for severe sanctions against Mugabe and his regime.

Cheerleader during this game of “Let’s Get The Bastard” was -and is- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He’s been telling us for some time now about his disgust at the sham election that gave the Zimbabwean leader a new term of office. This surprises me, for when it comes to ruling the roost over millions of people without a shadow of a mandate Mr. Brown is doing rather better than most. His job of Prime Minister -indeed, his very presence in Parliament- rests exclusively on the fact that 24,278 people in the handkerchief-sized Scottish constituency of Kircaldy & Cowdenbeath voted for him in 2005, giving him a majority of merely 18,216. Moreover, on being anointed the successor to Tony Blair, Mr.Brown ducked out of a general election that would have given his leadership at least a semblance of legitimacy, for fear that he might lose it. I imagine that, had the Zimbabwe elections been free, fair and peaceful, Robert Mugabe would still have come away with a few more votes than Brown.

Joining in the Hokkaido chorus of condemnation were other luminaries, such as the strutting French peacock Nicholas Sarkozy; America’s George W. Bush, who knows a thing or two about snatching victory from the mouth of defeat; the Italian Silvio Berlusconi, who can only stay out of jail by being in office; the Portuguese windsock Jose Manuel Barroso, whose political convictions once switched in a thrice from communism all the way to right-of-centre; Germany’s Angela “Mutti” Merkel who thinks the war in Iraq was a really good idea; the Canadian PM Stephen Harper, so new in the job that he hasn’t had time to blot his copybook and, representing Russia, Vladimir Putin’s glove puppet Dmitri Medvedev. Huddled together on their square yard of moral high ground they felt it incumbent on them to aim darts of righteous anger at Mugabe and his government.

I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing wrong with the present and past behaviour of Robert Mugabe. He is, by all accounts, capable of extreme cruelty, he brooks no opposition, stops at nothing to have his way and nurtures an especially fierce hatred of the white man. It would be impossible to call him a democrat in the western sense of the word, but then: democracy is a concept with which the entire African continent still grapples in vain. It is no coincidence that, however loud and vociferous the anti-Mugabe rhetoric in the rest of the world, hardly a peep has been heard out of Zimbabwe’s neighbours. I believe this to be because, secretly, they find that there is a lot to admire in the old firebrand. He is, after all, one of the hands that rocked the cradle of the newly liberated state, once the despised white supremacist regime of Ian Douglas Smith had been ousted from power. Along with a handful of comrades in arms (most of whom later became his rivals or even enemies) he fought a courageous struggle, in the course of which he suffered many privations –including a ten-year spell in prison. Of the heroes of Zimbabwe’s liberation, he is the only one who remains politically and ideologically active. He has to be, for in his mind the struggle against white domination goes on. His great project -handing all of Zimbabwe’s land over to its black population- is not yet complete. He knows he’s running out of time, so his methods have become more brutal than ever. This, in Mugabe’s perspective, is not the time to hand over the reins to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, whom he sees as a bunch of appeasers seeking an accommodation with what remains of the enemy.

Still, for all his brutality and blinkered hatred, Mugabe is a man of principle, of substance; a man who believes that, as the creator of a free Zimbabwe, he has a natural right to rule it until he drops dead. We may beg to differ, but what we may not do is revile him as if he were some worthless vermin. His good and his bad qualities are all larger than life. His place in history as a flawed hero is assured. Can we say that for the transient little blots on the landscape that presume to govern us? I don’t think so.

not as black as he's painted


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Dick W. Speekman said,

    Not even the Netherlands is as democratic as its government wants every other country to be. There seem to be plenty of political parties, to vote for. However, nobody seems to actually vote for any particular politician, who somehow rises from within such a political party. Some political parties within several months or an election seem to come to some sort of coalition agreement that creates a government which manages to hang on only for as long as no coalition member breaks the agreement. In the end, the country seems to be hobble along by a succession of compromises initiated by ministers or their assistants who don’t even have to be elected themselves, culminating in legislation that manages to stay on the books only if it is not too rigorously carried out or enforced. This policy is known as ‘gedoogbeleid’, which essentially adds up to looking the other way if someone offends, lest the offender gets offended by being punished. Somehow, the Dutch allow all this to happen and to be perpetrated in their name. Whenever something particularly objectionable or obnoxious now occurs, it is blamed on even more nameless European bureaucrats in Brussels or Strassbourg, many of whom have on several occasions been proven to be as corrupt as some members of regimes they so vociferously criticise. Due to the scale of the European economy, such corruption is on a scale more grandiose than in the dreams of even the most corrupt African dictator.

    As for practical considerations and help to less well-off nations, why not – for starters – abandon the hugely expensive and corrupt common agricultural policy? This would stop the insane overproduction of food in places or climates which are not naturally suited to such production and which is then dumped as ‘development or humanitarian aid’ on less well-off countries, in the process preventing their farmers from making a living and the populations of this largesse even more dependent on it.

    As for exporting democracy to Zimbabwe or any other country, if simply left alone they will in time either pull themselves up by their bootstraps or go asunder until they learn how to run an economy.

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