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The tragedy of Robert Mugabe

How Western cunning exploited African gullibility to demonise the Zimbabwean president

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | President Robert Mugabe is leaving power under duress after 37 years as leader of Zimbabwe. His fall has been celebrated as the “end of an error.” He has been vilified as an ageing, corrupt despot that wrecked his country’s economy and wanted to hand power to his wife after ruling for too long. But how long is too long?

In 509 BCE, the Romans revolted and deposed King Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquinius, The Proud) and established a republic under a Senate, which would elect two consuls as chief executives to serve a nonrenewable term of one year. This system survived for 482 years until Octavian (August Caesar) transformed the republic into an empire, circa 27BC. Under this system Rome grew from a small Kingdom in Italy to control an empire covering most of Europe through North Africa to Asia Minor.

Hence the Romans would find the US presidency that can last eight years too long i.e. there is no universal standard on longevity. The view that Mugabe ruled for too long is based on a standard set by someone. We African elites have embraced it without critical examination. Maybe Zimbabwe’s context requires a president to serve a nonrenewable term of one year or a term of ten years renewable thrice. Could the problem of Africa be that no one cares to think outside the box set for us by others?

Secondly, we had been told that Mugabe had personalised power. Yet recent events show this power was actually derived from his ability to arbitrate different powerful interests over which he superintended. When he was seen to represent the interests of his wife and her allies (who were not original to ZANU-PF) these interests decided to remove him. Therefore all the books, academic papers and media reports on personal rule by Mugabe were misrepresenting Zimbabwe’s politics. Thus the concept of “personalisation of power” (of which I have been a culprit) that we have internalised uncritically obscures rather than illuminates our understanding of the reality of politics in Africa.

Mugabe is accused of wrecking the economy of Zimbabwe by expropriating the property of white farmers. He has always defended himself saying that it is not his land reforms that led to economic collapse but the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe by Western powers. For many years, I refused to listen to him. Like most African elites, I embraced accusations against him uncritically. But do such confiscations automatically destroy an economy?

When Yoweri Museveni captured power in Uganda, Western ideologues made this claim. They convinced him to return Asian properties that had been confiscated by Idi Amin in 1972. He did. Uganda’s economy rebounded and the nation entered a long-term trajectory of growth. In most economic literature on post 1986 Uganda, this return of Asian properties is presented as a major reason for our growth. Therefore, it seems obvious that respect for private property does the magic of economic growth, right?

The reality is more complex. As Museveni was returning Asian properties to their former owners, he was also grabbing land from Ugandan ranchers and handing it over to landless cattle keepers in Ankole and parts of Buganda – exactly as Mugabe was later to do with white farmers. Western governments, academia and media said nothing. Why? The victims of Museveni’s land reforms were not white or Ugandan-Asians with Australian, British and Canadian citizenship. They were native Ugandans. Yet in spite of these confiscations, Uganda’s economy grew rapidly.

Also in 1946, South Korea supported by the American Military Government confiscated all the property of the Japanese who had been its colonial masters – land, banks, factories, etc. – which constituted about 75% of that nation’s GDP. Yet in spite of these confiscations, South Korea transformed from a poor agricultural society into a rich industrial nation within a generation.


  1. Superb Insight Mr Mwenda.

  2. Is it end of an “error” or “era”, though either would be right in their own way, and ofcourse it seems the use of quotes is intentional.
    Who decides that “The Last Word ” should be 2 pages, and if , when Kakyamas response is several pages that it is too long; who decided that a week is 7 days , a year 12 months, primary in Uganda is 7 years etc etc.
    The length one serves as president in Uganda was decided and the basis is in the preamble of the constitution- our HISTORY.
    History was such that most presidents, at least the time they had been in power, had not been very good. It was also acknowledged the influence ( power) that the president wields, and erring on the side of caution,it was decided that a president should be limited to 10 years.
    Likewise , the limit on age was based on empirical evidence suggesting the diminishing returns on the performance of a person relative to age beyond a certain age and the enormity of the task and it was decided that a person should not be made to serve as president beyond the age of 80; this considering that the average life expectancy was barely 50 at the time.

  3. “Nowhere is propaganda more effective (and dangerous) than when it uses (and abuses) actual truths.”

    This , MWENDA, is you talking about MWENDA.

    I have previously referred to it as “LYING AROUND THE TRUTH”

    You quote the 78% in 1994 and 93% in 2017 and then throw in the name of MANDELA as the culprit for this happening, conveniently forgetting that MANDELA left power in 1999 and died in 2013.

    What were those figures in 1999 when he left power.

    Ofcourse you have your personal agenda and you have made it almost a business to vilify people like MANDELA and OBAMA, but the truth is despite their faults, they are iconic figures and neither you or your father(sorry to bring him into this) will never achieve the status they have achieved even if you live your miserable lives ten times over.

    Why do we have those figures in South Africa today.

    I will use a very simple example.

    Your holding in a company can be 100m and you own 50% of the company and a few years down the line your holding goes to 200m and you hold 25% of the company.

    I will not say more but leave those with the brains to think and analyse.

  4. MUGABE did not seize white owned farms until he was about 20 years into power and even then it was because of pressure from the war veterans. The beneficiaries of the farms were almost exclusively from the SHONA tribe even in NDEBELE areas and the very , very few exceptions, ZANU PF members.
    AMIN on the other hand kicked out the ASIANS barely two years into power , and hardly under any pressure at a time when he was still popular. The distribution exercise was free and fair in all parts of the country, the businesses going to “deserving” locals and in Mbale for instance the people were Bagisu, Iteso,Basoga, Sebei, Bagwere,Baganda,Acholi, Nubian; Muslim, Christian, former UPC, DP, professionals and business people alike in line with the composition of the town at the time.

    • This is ANOTHER among many truths I have heard you put here ejakait. About the motives of Amin and Mugabe. I was one of the applicants for a certain studio in Fort Portal when the Chairman of the Business Allocation Committee was Major Agalla. I answered the questions well until I was told to step forward and my pair of shorts (school uniform) and student identity card (instead of a graduated tax ticket) betrayed me. He sent me packing immediately, thereafter calling school to verify whether I had gone back. I was suspended for 2 weeks. There was very little favouritism in the business allocation. I will forever remember the invocation his clerk pronounced whenever they handed over keys of allocated premises to a beneficiary. “This business is given to you to own by the Government of Uganda. It is not a loan,debt or gift. Keep it with care as you do all your personal property. I wish you success”. I had heard those words repeated about 8 times that day before my turn came and I was unceremoniously sent packing for the reason mentioned. As for Mugabe, he allocated the farms because there was threat to his rule by the opposition and disgruntled veterans. It was no love for his people, it was a political ploy. Another difference is that Amin was not interested in money (personal). he had no property except what he acquired during his days as a serviceman. But Mugabe’s opulence is there for the whole world to see. Amin’s families used public services for everything from schools to hospitals although the public services at the time were better than privates. ..wherever private services existed. Amin had many foreign friends including jews, why didn’t he stash some money in foreign banks?

      • Oh Grand man of Nyangole, I am beginning to believe that you are in a grand scheme to make me laugh to my death. I am in complete stitches imagining you applying for a business in your school shorts, also just goes to show how innocent we were in the day, trust me a kid of today will be able to get graduated tax tickets for 20 years never mind that he looks just 16.
        That with your “freedom train” complete with the odd pick pocket( was the omission of the odd pleasure lady by design) in tow.
        Just to remind our beloved M 9 that his frequently and intimately quoted figure, which of which the sarcasm from you was not unnoticed when you quoted it, of 278 has now gone to 279 and just wonder if that at the time included the change in KENYA , or that was still pending the outcome of the court/elections.
        In any case , you have earned your place on my Xmas card ( and maybe present) list.

        • My brother, I can vent my anger on M9 but on second thoughts, I remember that he grew up in a declining system thus impacting on his starting reference point. Uganda is not supposed to be compared to any other country ; taking that other country as a point of reference; not even UK which fed off Uganda since its establishing a protectorate to-date. Uganda is unique and should remain so. If it were my Nyangole Head Prefect (SP Ongodia) could reverse all this decline you see in Uganda in one calendar year…
          Start from ….rapidly establish cooperative societies and put a Nathan Nandala Mafabi in-charge with powers to hire,fire,jail and black-list non-performers; who will have applied for the posts with performance goal agreed on in irrevocable contracts. All businesses to be conducted in cooperatives including those of investors. Proceed to…. all foreigners who are not diplomats (including refugees) to pay a residence fee. The UNHCR tp pay for their refugees either in cash or an IOU deposited in Treasury. Then…..all property deemed opulent or over and above human needs to be taxed so it becomes a liability. Then ……do serious life-style audit to ensure source of anyone’s opulence (especially govt guys or their in-laws) is not public purse. Then…..guard Treasury as seriously as Nyangole watchmen around whom no thief (internal or external) ever by-passed. Thereafter…..appoint immediately Dr Obuku as Minister of Health and give him free hand to self-service his ministry from the treasury… I have a notion that young man can close some hospitals in 5 years (for lack of patients) due to his preventive health innovations. Then… close all factories that emit smoke (including UCI) and import what they have been producing. It is dirt cheap. for example a bag of Chinese cement would cost about 5000k UGX in Kampala. Triple tourist visa fees….. Whites need Ug more than Ug needs them. who approached to the other soliciting for cooperation first? Brit or Ug? Uganda badly needs reorganising by indigenous patriotic old-school folk who know how it was before these ‘revolutionaries’ came in with insatiable acquisition of things. Then the last Ongodia would not tolerate is enabling foreigners to arrogate land…..using he might allow say on arrangement of leasing per season (not years). But above all tax all opulent property and (jail owners if they default) so that embezzlement becomes unfashionable. Yours truly would be his right-hand-man and advisor ejakait. Lastly,…… I would enact a law whereby whoever will be found with a foreign bank account to be interned inside Kilembe mines for keeps and to give the money to the whistle-blower. Thereafter, is there anyone who can question Ongodia’s president-for-life project??? Maybe the few insatiable thieves. But theft will have been rendered unattractive. I have dreams a TC OB might yet salvage the Pearl.

  5. IN all his praise and worship for MUGABE and his vilification of MANDELA, M 9 conveniently forgets or thinks people are fools , and does not mention the fact that our Uncle BOB, a whole 14 years into his administration, was KNIGHTED by the QUEEN; which knighthood was only withdrawn in 2008!
    HE also forgets that MANDELA coming to power in SOUTH AFRICA was not as a result of an outright military victory over the apartheid government. The apartheid government, if it had so wished, had the means and capacity to hang on probably for a few more years. So because it was a negotiated settlement, there were terms and conditions that both parties were bound by and also the reality that a system that had taken hundreds of years to build could not just be dismantled overnight without adversely affecting the economy.
    THIS was also done in KENYA , which to date has an economic advantage over its sister states because of the cautionary route they took towards the ASIANS and the WHITES.
    MANDELA was probably wise enough to have learnt the lessons of Uganda and Kenya.

    • Knighting,like all royal honours requires nomination; which nominations are so shrouded in utmost secrecy that they are thought to be beyond manipulation. But since they are done by humans, there must a way around. for example: in 2006 and 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service investigated a group of Labour Party donors who made large secret loans to the party just before the 2005 general election and were later nominated for peerages.
      As stripping Bob of his knighthood, well the reason must have been because maybe that he was just Robert Mugabe.

  6. Well written article !
    The puppets are not limited to Africans alone. The masters play their own people too. It is a big crowd being played.
    It is refreshing to hear an African who questions. Bravo !
    Good work Andrew M !

  7. M9 is bound to move in circles around a public problem of quality services delivery whose solution he cannot possibly understand because his only respected point of reference is books,magazines,publications and other writs which are selective and in fact brief. I understand how and why he relies mostly on statistics from WB, polsters and other ‘experts’ who he believes (strongly) that their findings and methodology could be revealing.
    I have never heard or read(unless I have forgotten) Mwenda quote his sober,knowledgeable and highly informed parents and other elderly relatives on issues that we all discuss here. They are the best sources of how,when and why things went wrong. For M9’s information, I saw more than once, a headmaster of a school I attended, return bursaries to Tooro District Administration because a student had applied and got but much later after his father had paid tuition. Another time is when two bursaries (from two districts) would be sent to one applicant and the headmaster would send back one. I don’t understand when population growth is blamed for current mess because farmers who had 12 children catered for them just like those (or even better than) those who had 3. It requires radical approach to deal with these ills that bedevil a people who are supposed to be the Paradise of Africa. Whoever has been elsewhere (s) will tell you Uganda is unique and the best land on earth. Don’t know why but it is so.

  8. Very impressive arguments, just wish Mwenda publishes some of them in his magazine of hard copies. This is constructive debate Mwenda and can stimulate you to do more research.

  9. Dear Andrew,

    For me I have not read the article but have been looking for your address just to share something paining me.

    I see on social media that there is slave trade in Libya. I do not know if it is true in this 21st century.
    But, if it true then I have a few questions to put across;
    1. Why has the media kept this quiet?
    2. What is AU doing or trying to do about it at this time when it is more organized than before. Hasn’t been preached that African solutions for African problems?
    3. Is it because no African leader can be directly be held responsible that ICC is not interested?

    I beg our responsible pan-african media, AU etc break silence on this vice.

  10. Its only Grade B Ugandans who think that Amin is better than M7.
    A.The following are the lessons learnt after Mugabe’s downfall;
    (i) Nations like China and Russia proved to the world that despite Trade Embargo being imposed on them by USA and EU,they could remain economically stable actually; some school of thought believe that when USA imposed a Trade Embargo in China after the Tienanmen Square Massacre of 1989 that’s when the Chinese sobered up and embraced technology so why didnt Zimbabwe wake up during the trade Embargo?its coz they had no skill for Managing the white owned farms they actually eat all the animals and crops they found in the farms.
    (ii) The army is still a very important in the politics of 3rd world nations.
    (iii) Socially,its good for a man to spoil his wife with expensive stuff i doubt whether Rajab has ever heard of a Rolls Royce Phantom he only knows about Fuso Trucks.
    (iv) Regardless of what people say, there is no bad leader that’s why despite Mugabe’s weaknesses he is still being honoured.,If you see the development M7 has made in Ug you will be blown away.
    (iv) What was the FDC election about?Its like they want NRM to feel that they are doing fine.

  11. Zimbabwe must be a very unique country they have treated Mugabe with dignity and declared a public holiday in his honour now this begs the question was Mugabe just protrayed as a bad leader?does the current government think its normal to grant Mugabe immunity from the corruption cases ?At 94 is Mugabe still a threat?

    • Mugabe was an “Africanist.” At the time of independence (1980) there were agreements (concessions) between the “nationalists” and the colonial adminstration. The “whites” kept procrastinating on their promises until 1998 when Mugabe stood his ground and decided to do what should have happened before or soon after their independence. Treating Mugabe with dignity is the least any leadership with an “African” meaning should do. The other, should be to set a precedent for the rest of African leaders to emulate. Winnie, you’re not in my home, why should you then fantasize about it? I am well catered for, if you should know. Thanks.

    • MUGABE is being treated the way he is because the very people who are doing so are the people who carried out the things he is accused of doing. They can not say MUGABE was bad without them being bad, MUGABE can not be called a killer without them being killers, if he was a THIEF , then they too were thieves.
      The very people who were cheering when the resignation letter was read were the very people who cheered when MNANGAGWA was sacked.
      This is just a change of guard and they are just fighting over the spoils, and one needs to know the words that MNANGAGWA said in his native SHONA during the swearing in speech. Those few words meant more than all his long speech in English.

  12. BEING an AFRICANIST should not mean that you treat the whites badly or in this case snatch back what the whites took from the AFRICANS, BUT in the process treat the AFRICANS even worse including killing them.
    Whatever it is that he did in taking back the white farms, he undid 100 fold in what he did to his own people.
    Decorate him with whatever medal you want, but hang him immediately after giving him the medal, or do it the other way round; hang him and give him the medal posthumously.

    • Ejakait, I believe you’re a well read soul. Read the Lancaster House Agreement which centred at the Rhodesian Bush war. The rich white farmers agreed to the redistribution of wealth- a half of which was to be paid by the British government. Tony Blair reneged on this promise claiming that the Margaret Thatcher fund was no more. Mugabe’s methods of work notwithstanding, we can analyse the causes that could have invoked his reaction. For sure, he wasn’t a saint.

      • ejakait engoraton

        I am very familiar with the Lancaster Agreement, having been in the UK at the time , and having studied with several Zimbabwean students at the time in addition to having the then director of African Educational Trust Trust, a white Rhodesian(Zimbabwean) , a one Dr Matthews, who was every bit an African and was technically in exile and was on the first plane as soon as Zimbabwe got its independence.
        Yes, the British reneged on their part of the deal, just like our own Gen Amin claimed the British had not fulfilled a promise they had made to him, thus partly the reason for expelling the Asians.
        I have no quarrel with Uncle Bob seizing the farms, even though Kenya also did the same without the same catastrophic results, even though theirs too was not perfect.
        My quarrel is with the way he went on to treat his people.And surely I see double standards here in you accepting that Uncle Bob has the right to treat his people the way he has done, including stealing an election and whipping the alleged winner into submission, but you blame M 7 for doing the same.
        Just put me out of my misery.

        • You’re putting words in my mouth. I’ve said as much, Mugabe’s methods of work notwithstanding, let’s take into consideration what could have prompted his reaction. He was a darling at first, what could have changed? You might consider such a stand to be academic but it is not entirely wrong.

  13. DO not believe all the rubbish that MUGABE, almost under no duress resigned. MUGABE had called their bluff and told them to go ahead and impeach him. Realising that this would be a very messy process and that MUGABE had the right to be heard under the terms of the impeachment, in which MUGABE would have brought out very incriminating evidence, they literally put a gun to his head. Even the threat of beheading GRACE did not move him.
    AND besides, the impeachment was not a certain, since MUGABE still had people who were not prepared to impeach him, and most of all, they would have needed the OPPOSITION votes, and the opposition were looking for their pound of flesh.They had made it known to the Generals that they would not vote to impeach MUGABE unless certain things were discussed and agreed upon, notably the shape of the post MUGABE government and the forthcoming elections.

  14. I was deeply depressed by M9’s article, but highly impressed by Ejakait Engoraton and Rajab Kakyama intelligent responses. Andrew Mwenda has become an opportunistic enigma. Only those without the intellect, conscience and moral can applaud M9’s current banality.

  15. Continuation of the lessons learnt from the end of Mugabe’s rule
    (v).Every country should have a neighbor it can count on for example S.Africa was going to give Mugabe a “soft landing’thats if matters went out of hand.
    (vi) .Ug can always count on TZ .I liked the way Ugandans at the boarder of TZ and Ug received Mugafuli you could see that they were excited to see 2 presidents in their life time.
    (vi) Coups that are staged by members within a party are normally peaceful and allows continuation.
    (vi) Zimbabwe is still stuck with the same bunch of leaders at times; its difficult to get rid of architects and founders of parties this is evident in Kenya and USA where the Kenyatta,Kennedy and Bush dynasty is key and active in the politics of their nations.
    (viii)Leaders should be respected the people of Zimbabwe made Mugabe attend and address his last UN meeting.
    (ix) Zimbabwe has invented a new tactic for managing coups. it can be bloodless but still fruitful.

  16. The Ugandan economy grew not because Museveni grabbed land from native Ugandans but it did so in spite of his lawlessness, his lack of respect of private property laws and rights. In any case Ugandans survived even under Amin economic war of scarcity, depravity and embargos. Moreover grabbing property from native Ugandans doesn’t have the same consequences as grabbing foreign owned property. The Ugandan Asian debacle example should have been a learning moment for Mugabe (he is a professional teacher), that you don’t grab people’s commercial farms especially if they’ve international connections. Amin was heavily sanctioned for grabbing Asian properties. Mugabe shouldn’t have repeated the same folly. His successor Mnangagwa is electing to compensate the farmers.
    “Also in 1946, South Korea supported by the American Military Government confiscated all the property of the Japanese who had been its colonial masters – land, banks, factories, etc. – which constituted about 75% of that nation’s GDP. Yet in spite of these confiscations, South Korea transformed from a poor agricultural society into a rich industrial nation within a generation.”
    How could it be in spite of the confiscations when South Kore benefitted directly from the seizure of Japanese assets? Japan or anybody else for that matter had no power or means to retaliate the way Asian and world community retaliated against Amin or the West retaliated against Mugabe. Mandela proved the wiser for not to repeat the same dumb mistake.
    The tragedy with Mugabe is that he is a hero was interested in power for power’s sake. He’s only economic idea was to print Kwachas. Amin did that too with the Uganda Shilling. We all know what happened.
    Mugabe should have addressed land issues right away but instead he sat around busily eliminating his arch rivals, the Ndebele. He became just another tribal chief. Only after twenty years when his comrades complained that was when he reacted like a drunk sail man, and resorted to grabbing productive commercial farms, only to hand over them to his comrades who could not farm, at least not on a commercial scale.
    “The people of Zimbabwe celebrating Mugabe’s fall are not dancing to their own tune but one written in London.”
    If anything you are the one who seems to be mentality colonialized when you attribute everything that happens to Western powers. They are not that omnipotent. This is a familiar criticism, self-defeating supine argument. It purports Mandela was/is a creation of the Western liberal guilt. The same has been said of King and Obama. These achieved their heroic feats, but instead being celebrated their accomplishments are sullied by none other their own people. These self-defeating arguments are silly.
    Why Mandela or King or Obama?
    The pseudo-Africanist commentators sound like those on the other side of the argument who use Mandela, King and Obama to suggest “you got what you were fighting for, namely, black presidents (Mandela and Obama) and civil rights (King), what more do you want?”, as if the issues instantaneously magically disappeared. If anything in many instances the progress is being reversed.

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