The Mugabe we all adored in Dar turned out an embarrassment

Saturday November 25 2017

This file photo taken on August 22, 2013 shows

This file photo taken on August 22, 2013 shows Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe looking on during his inauguration and swearing-in ceremony at the 60,000-seater sports stadium in Harare. Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe on November 21, 2017. AFP PHOTO | ALEXANDER JOE 

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Under Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Dar es Salaam served as the external headquarters of practically every one of the nationalist movements fighting to bring down Europe’s racially conceited tyrannies all over our continent – all the way from the borders of Egypt in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south, including Kenya.

That was how I first met Robert (“Bob”) Mugabe, a great nationalist, at that time considered as the most redoubtable of all of Southern Africa’s campaigners for indigenous self-rule.

For, in the Tanzanian capital, Robert Mugabe was seen then as the topmost and most cherished among Africa’s nationalist leaders fighting to bring down European tyranny all over our vast continent, especially in that Southern African colony, and throughout the world.


Southern Rhodesia, as Ian Smith and other white supremacists conceitedly insisted on calling it, was what Robert Mugabe would soon lead into independence as Zimbabwe – in triumph and to the accompaniment of vigelegele all over the continent and the world, especially in Kambarage Nyerere’s Tanzania, where, in Dar es Salaam, I was then working as a weekend newspaper editor and weekly columnist.
Unfortunately, however – as one of Britain’s own top political historians had already noticed – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If anybody doubted it, the Third World’s own history since independence, especially Africa’s, has powerfully proved the correctness of that dictum by a noted observer of human behaviour.

Corruption is the name of it in all capitals of Africa and the Third World – including ours – and death is frequently the result of all reactions to anybody intrepid enough to criticise and attempt to put paid to it.

In our own country, a number of true fighters for freedom have paid for it with their own personal lives.

However, although Robert Mugabe was initially adored at home and profoundly respected throughout the continent and, indeed, throughout the world, his regime began to be increasingly personified by economic grabbing, political heavy-handedness, social decay and personal arrogance by every one of that country’s top leaders.


Power drunkenness has been the most spectacular characteristic of leaders in all the countries the whole world over in which – encouraged by Europe’s own economically dominant classes pursuing their own gluttonous self-interests all over the world – “independence” was granted precisely under that kind of leadership throughout what Europe now contemptuously calls the Third World.

Quite evidently, nevertheless, times do change. Of all the nationalists fighting to bring down Britain’s colonial high-handedness and arrogance, Robert Mugabe was at one time one of Africa’s most cherished darlings.

When I worked in Dar es Salaam, I often met and deeply admired the person whom fellow nationalists in exile called “Dear Bob”.

Time was indeed when I wholeheartedly recommended “Bob” as the chief spokesman for our continent and for humanity’s downtrodden classes all over the world, including even in that same Western Europe which had, for the nonce, assumed the role of model of what was alleged to be “democracy”.

Specifically, I would wholeheartedly have recommended Robert Mugabe as the future leader of my Zimbabwean cousins.

When I first met face to face and interviewed what was then our “dear Bob” in an hotel room in Dar es Salaam at some point in the early 1970s, he proved overwhelmingly charming, courteous, captivating in manner, overpowering in intellect and overwhelmingly knowledgeable of history and the modern human world.

Of all the nationalists seeking to defeat Caucasian racist tyranny and conceit in Africa, especially in Namibia and Southern Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe remained what William Shakespeare – the great bard of England’s own intellectual and cultural celebration – would have embraced in poetry and drama as “the nonpareil”.

Quite evidently, it would have been a terrible and embarrassing mistake.

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