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Bye bye Bob – did you come so far for so little?

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I can’t believe he is gone – albeit decades overdue – and I find it difficult to imagine Zimbabwe without him.

If ever there is a case study for the perils of clinging too long to power in Africa, Robert Gabriel Mugabe is it; a cautionary tale for every leader trying to die in office.

If he had stepped down after his second, or even third term – about 1995, I reckon – he would have been revered in the way a true leader should. There would have been museums and archives set up his honor, an annual Mugabe lecture by the finest brains on the planet. There would have been scholarships in his name and he would have been on advisory panels along with Jimmy Carter and the rest of the world’s sage elders. Like the late president of Botswana, Ketumile Masire, who got it right after two terms, Mugabe could have sat on his farm waiting for the wise and the good to beat a path to his door seeking counsel.

Instead Mugabe spent the most of the last two years being vilified, spat at, mocked and howled down by the mob. I saw him at the World Economic Forum in May, in Durban, and it made me sick to my guts; the poor man could hardly walk let alone keep his eyes open. I blame those around him too who kept him on the throne in the interests of their paycheques.

It was a sadder sight when I compared it to the first time I interviewed Mugabe, all clipped, groomed and sharp suited at State House in Harare, way back in April 1994 with the autumn sun glinting through the window and lawnmowers humming across the carpet of green grass outside. Those were halcyon days for Mugabe, respect among his educated people – with one of the highest literacy rates in Africa – was in abundance. Any criticism of the big man was met with reproving stares.

“That is our president,” people used to say.

On this warm autumn day Mugabe was at his schoolmasterly sharpest, always ready to take advantage of any gap in knowledge.

“Who told you that?” he used to say if you really caught him out, trying to dismiss you as if you were a sixth former. Remember, if he hadn’t bid for power, liberating his country,  he could have ended his working days as a colonial headmaster.

READ MORE: Zimbabwe beware: the military is looking after its own interests, not democracy

As the years wore on I interviewed him many times and he rarely disappointed even if some of his quotes, even in the sharp days, were bizarre.

I remember a day at the Harare Book Fair, in 1995, when Mugabe went off on a rant against gays and lesbians displaying their books on the stalls. He called them the association of sodomists and sexual perverts. When he came out of the fair I asked him on camera what he had against gay people.

“I do not believe men should have children through wombs,” says Mugabe. It underlined the old man’s vehemence when he had a bee in his bonnet.

Once we dashed to an impromptu roadside speech by Mugabe to a large crowd of Zanu-PF Women’s League in Samora Machel, the main road through Harare. We arrived in a rush and my cameraman hastily set up his tripod and fiddled with the camera. All the while Mugabe was watching us out of the corner of his eye as he ranted on against gays in ChiShona, his mother tongue. As soon as the cameraman switched on and looked down the lens, Mugabe switched to English.

“Let them be gay in Europe, let them be gay in America, they will be sad people here,” says Mugabe with a dismissive wave of his arms. He knew that soundbite would fly around the world on the new wires; and it did.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

This is one reason why Mugabe survived so long, he was a wily old fox (even the cleverest foxes couldn’t have dreamed up some of the big man’s dodges) who knew how to manipulate divide and rule. Woe betide anyone who upset him. He sent a couple of my colleagues to the torture chamber and one of them died very young as a result. More than a few of his opponents disappeared and tens of thousands were killed in Matabeleland in the Gukurahundi of the early 80s.

All of this he brushed off with his trademark arrogance. One summer night, I pushed a microphone under his nose as he walked away from a state function and asked him why he was sheltering Haile Mariam Mengistu – the former president who is wanted for the deaths of many thousands of his fellow Ethiopians – who lives in luxury in Harare.

“Why can’t we give shelter to a legitimate refugee?” says Mugabe on the night. Well, Bob, there are refugees and then there are fugitives from justice.

As Mugabe walked away to his Mercedes he grumbled to one of his flunkies that it was the reason he didn’t like talking to whites (that must have been me) because they asked stupid questions. Arrogance told him that the latter was true even though the previous question was, pardon me, as true as Bob. That sense of self-importance that dates back to the days when his indulgent mother let him read books instead of herd cattle with his brothers back in his rural home in Zvimba.

Now it has all come home to roost. Everyone has turned on Mugabe: his comrades, his people and even those who worshipped him in better days. What a sad end to what could have been one of the most shining political careers in Africa. He won’t be remembered as a fox; more as a skunk.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe spent 10 years in prison, years in exile, years suffering headaches of building a new post-colonial society amid cold war politics and threats from apartheid South Africa across the border. I have one last question for him before he swans off into an uncertain retirement: Did you come so far for so little?

Current Affairs

First African Elected Female Head of State Urges Women to Be Bold

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has an iconic status in Africa and the world. As the first elected female head of state in Africa, she served as the leader of Liberia for two elected terms.

Those terms saw Liberia’s slow and steady march from what was considered a pariah state to a country with what the Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls a “trajectory of progress” that has helped transform its economy, survive the shock of Ebola, and restructure public institutions to respond to the needs of the people.

READ MORE: The People’s President

It is only fitting that FORBES WOMAN AFRICA gets to meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Rwanda, a country known for its high representation of women in Parliament, and where Sirleaf is awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership at a special ceremony.

Q. Please share your thoughts on the African Union (AU) self-funding reform goal, the Kaberuka Proposal.
The dependency of the AU on external sources has been the subject of debate for many years, and the thinking of our leaders is that it is better to finance our operations by ourselves and alleviate pressure and dictation from these external sources. On the other hand, we know that to have financial autonomy, every country must be able to contribute consistently. So, the crux of the reform is to change the payment formula and make sure everyone knows they have to pay their part.

When it comes to the Kaberuka suggestion, it meets our objective of financing our organization ourselves. However, it does place a burden on the poorer states… So, our position with the Kaberuka plan is to study it some more so when we commit, we do not fall into arrears. We want to see the reform implemented, and for it to include cost-reduction in structural aspects such as travel and positions etc., thus reducing the burden on poorer countries.

Q: Will Africa really be able to tackle illicit financial flows? And with women being conspicuously absent from financial decision-making, yet being the greatest losers on such issues, how do we tackle these discrepancies?
We have to become more accountable and pass stringent mandates in institutions, as well as instill practical capacity to understand the complexities of these financial transactions. Also, we must implement a legal system that will enforce against such flow violations.

Access for women is difficult even in the case of legitimate flows. Even with a growing manufacturing sector and agri-industrial activities usually manned by women, access is still limited, for rural women particularly.

There is a big effort being put in by different regional institutions; in Liberia’s case, GIABA, the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, has been analyzing the flows and determining what is illicit.
But it is up to women to stand up and put other women in leadership roles, because the record is clear: women are more credit-worthy when it comes to financial transactions, and this suggests the more women there are heading these institutions, the more we can be assured that regulatory laws will be more effective.

READ MORE: ‘Women’s Leadership Is Under Attack Globally’

Q: What are your plans? How would you encourage young women to follow in your footsteps, or even create their own path?
We are establishing the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. The activities will center around five themes that will promote women in business; women in leadership; women in fragile states; women in migration; and education for women and girls. We will use the life experiences of women who have excelled in these areas. For the young women, I say to all, be self-confident and pursue your goals…Let us be bold as women.

– Interviewed by Laura Rwiliriza

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Current Affairs

Prosecution And Praise For Jacob Zuma

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It proved a day short on time in court and big on political posturing and speeches. The former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma’s appearance lasted a mere 10 minutes, on April 6, and the trial postponed until June 8 – yet he managed to make political capital out of his day in court in Durban.

On a bright sunny day in the coastal city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa, the former head of state stood trial in his own court. Almost 10 years ago, 10 days after this day, 18 charges on 783 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering were dropped against Jacob Zuma by former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Mokotedi Mpshe.

This decision was said to have been based on the recordings of the so-called ‘spy tapes’, which were presented to Mpshe by Zuma’s legal team. And almost a decade later, Zuma stands trial in the same court for the same charges which were reinstated by now NPA boss Shaun Abrahams.

The court was packed to full capacity with only 25 journalist allowed inside. Media came from all over the country, the continent and the world. Night vigils and pickets were held outside the night before the court case and on the day the case took place, led by different organizations supporting the former president. These organizations included Transform RSA, Black First Land First led by Andile Mngxitama, student groups from various KZN universities and members of the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party who claimed not to be operating under the party’s name.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC made an announcement a week before the trial that members of the party who liked to support Msholozi, as Zuma is affectionately called, could do so in their own personal capacity and not wear any party regalia. However, ANC members who attended actually did the opposite and when asked if they were defying their own party, countered “you cannot have an ANC without Jacob Zuma”.

Thousands of supporters in front of the Durban High Court chanted struggle songs and praised Zuma.

Zuma addressed the crowds after spending close to 15 minutes inside the court room.

“I keep asking them what have I done for them to keep trying to bring me down but they have no answers but one day they will,” he said.

Among the top-ranking ANC officials in KZN was the province’s MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Sihle Zikalala who vowed to aid in defending the former president.

What is clear is that the ANC in KZN is still divided, with its members committing to prove Zuma’s innocence and unseating current president Ramaphosa before the 2019 elections. On the other hand, some others are calling for his prosecution by the court of law.

This case may take years to be concluded and political wars in the province may not augur well for the ANC.

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Current Affairs

Zuma’s gone. Let’s go!

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Jacob Zuma

Africa’s most robust and developed economy is on the cusp of an economic revival after the long-awaited change of guard at the top.

South Africa’s economy has struggled against downgrades by the ratings agencies and a flight of foreign investors in several difficult years that have left the country with miniscule growth.

The big obstacle to change was President Jacob Zuma whose unpopularity and poor management of the economy, amid clouds of corruption allegations, threatened to bury the once all powerful African National Congress (ANC). In the good times, a decade ago, when the economy was growing at a healthy 5%, the leaders of the ANC boasted they would rule until Jesus came back. The penny slowly dropped for the party faithful that if economic times got steadily harder, feeding a rising opposition, the party may struggle to rule until the end of the next elections in 2019.

Pressure for change came from even the most die-hard ANC members for Zuma to resign. He refused; the party bigwigs gave him a deadline and at the eleventh hour, just before midnight on February 14, he did so live on TV. In many ways, he had little choice; his party comrades were plotting to throw him out through a humiliating vote of no confidence in Parliament, in Cape Town, also live on TV. He would also have lost his pension, security and benefits in the process.

READ MORE: Zuma’s time is up – but does it mean for South Africa

For a former head of intelligence, Zuma appeared strangely out of touch with what people were thinking.

“What have I done?” was his reaction to the decision by the ANC to recall him. A cursory flick through the business pages of the newspapers would have told him: Job losses and unemployment running at more than one in four; falling business confidence and tales of millions of taxpayers’ money slushing into private pockets rather than public projects.

Into the breach stepped Cyril Ramaphosa, the former deputy president who was sworn in as the country’s new leader, in Cape Town on February 15, with a promise to clean up and pep up the economy. He is seen as the business friendly president and a pragmatic negotiator with vast experience from the picket line to the boardroom.

“Issues to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state-owned enterprises and how we deal with ‘state capture’ are issues that are on our radar screen,” says Ramaphosa as he was elected as president, unopposed, in Parliament.

READ MORE: What the lack of accountability for Marikana says about Zuma’s government

Many of the business leaders I have spoken to, from Davos to Johannesburg, agree that if Ramaphosa turns his words into action they will invest with confidence.

“You are going to see millions of dollars flooding into this country in the next six months,” says Gary Booysen of Rand Swiss in Johannesburg.

The markets appeared to agree and surged with the rand. The currency reached highs not seen since May 2015, the last halcyon days of the economy. Three days of madness, in December 2015, put paid to that when Zuma sacked respected finance minister, Nhanlha Nene, replaced him with rookie Des Van Rooyen the next day and him, under duress, with former finance minister Pravin Gordhan the day after. The president sacked Gordhan in March 2017 and replaced him with another rookie Malusi Gigaba – the rand and confidence plunged, as did the ratings.

Ramaphosa – a multi-millionaire who has made his money from black empowerment and shrewd business decisions – wants a legacy of being the man who helped his country out of the mire. He has deep roots in the liberation movement and anyone who knows him will tell you he would want to be remembered as the best leader of his country since Nelson Mandela.

Anyone who has their money and pension tied up in South Africa will hope that he does so.

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