It was a jam-packed hall that was filled with the sobriety of prominent personalities. No squealing sound, no thunderous applause to betray the sentiments of fascination and tantalizing awe. Yet it was a live musical performance. The year was 1977. The venue was in Lagos. The legendary anti-apartheid singer was performing at the Second Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. Her name was Miriam Makeba. Many will remember somewhere down memory lane, that the front row of this show was occupied by eminent personalities of the world of Politics from several African countries. Most notable was one General Olusegun Obasanjo, whose name featured quite often in Makeba's improvised songs.
This was a period, in which independence struggle in the residual territories of Southern Africa triggered off a sudden sense of nationalistic awareness all through the continent. Nelson Mandela was in prison. Oliver Tambo was at the helm of affairs in the African National Congress. Agostinho Neto led the struggle in Angola. Samora Machel was leading the fight in neighboring Mozambique. Rhodesia under the racist regime of the unrepentant white rebel Ian Smith was fiercely opposed in armed struggle by a prominent Trio of Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe and Reverend Sithole.
Historians will easily recall that while Reverend Sithole bore the brunt of apartheid's wrath together with Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, his retreat in the twilight years of Rhodesia's bondage, into a politic of non-violence ultimately became his negative legacy. After suffering a minimum of ten years imprisonment for armed resistance in the hands of minority white rulers Reverend Sithole parted ways from Robert Mugabe, who eventually continued armed struggle alongside Joshua Nkomo. In the end, Reverend Sithole was viewed in the light of treachery by on-looking Africans much like Buthelezi and Jonas Savimbi are viewed today. Even though he partook in the Lancaster Conference that eventually saw the birth of Zimbabwe, Sithole's party failed to win a single seat in the elections that ultimately swept Mugabe to power in 1980.
A very well educated intellectual, Robert Mugabe is often secretly admired by friends and enemies as a crafty, smart and intelligent negotiator. With a minimum of eight academic degrees â€“ some acquired while in Prison â€“ including two Masters degrees in Law, Robert Mugabe was not a material to be pushed aside by white rulers who naturally considered themselves intellectually better disposed than black Africans. His obstinate commitment to a decisive line of armed struggle in spite of a decade of morale-crushing time in white captivity earned Mugabe a very positive reputation among black voters.
While it was clear to every neutral observer that Robert Mugabe has as much credit as Joshua Nkomo for the liberation of Zimbabwe from the stranglehold of white minority rulers, history however grew up to portray a different course as time went on. Radical Robert Mugabe was rewarded for his pre-independence struggle and sacrifices by being literally swept into power in 1980. It was his opportunity to make indelible marks and engrave himself in the annals of history.
After all, it was easy to see what happened to Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Reverend Sithole, who voters generally considered to be traitors.
Indeed, Robert Mugabe engraved himself in the history books. Not by lifting the level of affluence of the common Blackman but by successfully decimating political opponents who were erstwhile comrades in arm. Most notable was Joshua Nkomo. Great Britain watched and so did the United States of America. In 1983 when Robert Mugabe unleashed his fifth Brigade on Matabeleland (homeland of Joshua Nkomo) and massacred over 20,000 tribal folks in the aftermath of disagreements with and suspicions of Joshua Nkomo, Great Britain watched and so did the United States of America. In fact, Joshua Nkomo â€“ a major pillar and veteran of the independence struggle fled through Botswana and took up refuge in London. No one spoke out.
In the year 1977 while Miriam Makeba was thrilling a Nigerian audience in FESTAC at the peak of the armed struggle, no one knew any name called Morgan Tsvangirai. He was yet a young man of just 22.
The name Morgan Tsvangirai suddenly sprang to the limelight of global awareness in the aftermath of Robert Mugabe's personal failings. Having failed to uplift the welfare of his own folks over two decades of rulership and by this means automatically decimate white settlers in their economic significance to Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe indeed presided over soaring inflation and plummeting level of affluence.
An agreement under the Lancaster Conference of the 1970s committed the British government to the payment of subsidies for the sustenance of land retention by minority white farmers in Zimbabwe. This was the blackman's concession to the white minority in the independence process. Charging that the ruling elite in Zimbabwe had always misappropriated this money since independence, the government of Tony Blair discontinued the payment of this subsidy. Thereafter, events developed its own dynamics and spiraled out of control. The policy of land reform began. Mugabe dispossessed white farmers of their lands, which were passed over to poorly prepared black farmers, who till today, have failed to make any substantial capital out of mechanized farming.
While the land reforms went down well with black Africans, it indeed rekindled the age-long spirit of nationalism and revamped the dying image of the stubborn and dedicated guerilla fighter Robert Mugabe.
With the interest of the whites suddenly threatened, the government of Tony Blair suddenly began to conjure the monstrous spirit of a "devilish dictator" Robert Mugabe. Where quiet and constructive diplomacy was required, Tony Blair in tandem with his brother-in-arm George W. Bush opted for the sledgehammer diplomacy. They set off a roller coaster trail of the western good-guy image versus the African bad-boy image. Once started, it is difficult to stop a diplomatic train without loosing face and the all-important prestige. Therefore, a fight-to-finish was ushered into the public arena of the international diplomatic community.
A foster child is then found in the person of an opposition leader, who is quietly prepared to take over from "bad-boy" Mugabe. But come on! Was this game not also played in far-away Iraq with some bad-guy Hussein a few years back? Precisely this is what renders the game outright complicated. This game cannot be sold to the African audience so easily. A large part of the African intelligentsia will have none of it
In the end, the African elite is caught in a dilemma of wits. Priority will have to be defined. Should a western-backed "young boy" with absolute ignorance of the pains and hardship of guerilla warfare and the sufferings of our heroes past be held high on a silver plate and served as the ultimate port of salvation to the detriment of a liberation hero?
Morgan Tsvangirai would today, have been a no-brainer and an ultimate lightweight in the political arena, were it not for western support. Western media at least have offered him and his "Movement for Democratic Change" far more exposure than any African news media would have accorded this unknown activist of the liberation days. No mention is yet made of supposed financial assistance from clandestine western sources.
That however, is just one side of the story. The other side of the story though, is the plain veracity of Robert Mugabe's intolerable and painful status of endless leadership. Revolutionary or not, liberation hero or not, there comes a time to simply say goodbye. A solid groundwork is characteristically laid with a protÃ©gÃ© groomed over time to face the challenges of the rainy days. It just cannot be true that Zimbabwe with a population of over 13 million has no other qualified person to rule the land than Robert Mugabe alone. Gratitude for liberation sacrifices and all other sufferings simply has an end. The nation cannot simply be held to ransom till death do us part! This indeed, is Mugabe's ultimate and most tragic failing.
Another flipside of the coin is also Morgan Tsvangirai's own side of the story. Western-backed or not (even though too infuriating to accept), what option does anyone have who seeks to wake Zimbabwe up from decades of dominance in the hands of a single self-styled liberator? A liberator who refused to share power meaningfully with an erstwhile comrade-in-arm let alone quit the scene and father the nation!
With all gratitude to Mugabe for his historical achievements, what is left of his indelible post-independence print on the history books is threatening to become nothing more than egocentrism and a downward drive of the Zimbabwean economic vehicle. Opportunity wholly wasted in spite of all the goods for which he will also be remembered. Rather than sharing a place beside Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Leopold Sedar Senghor or perhaps even the almighty Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe is strongly facing the prospect of sharing a level playing field with the spirits of Mobutu Sese Seko, Gnassingbe Eyadema, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Kabila of Zaire etc. all for failing to quit when the time was due and for failing to groom a worthy successor, when the signs were clear. Its now party time for western forces and their captivating mass media.
Nigeria knows too well, of a contemporary who seems to share this fate. Parallels can be drawn between Mugabe and Olusegun Obasanjo.
Like Obasanjo, Robert Mugabe is a watershed symbol marking a crossroad for the African intelligentsia. The general mood is pervaded by a sense of confusion and indecision. It is a sense of sadness and despair because it is all to obvious to see how this unrelenting fighter with a passionate commitment to Pan-Africanism and the desire to shield Africa with all vehemence, from foreign domination is now being toyed with like a pawn on the chessboard of sinister diplomacy.
Unfortunately however, it's all a glaring losing game. Sooner or later, Thabo Mbeki will be quitting the scene. A new western groomed successor is lurking to take over South Africa before Mugabe's very nose and directly in Zimbabwe's backyard. As it stands though, one way or the other, Mugabe will surely quit in a matter of years (pray not months) but hopefully in the aftermath of a natural transition! Prosperity may come albeit half-baked and in neo-colonial captivity under Morgan Tsvangirai. But who would really care in the current state of the continent though? After all other countries are presently thriving in semi-destitution with the active aid of western overseers! Lord have mercy on Zimbabwe!