Cheers, Tears for Robert Mugabe | Nigeria Newspaper- Nigeria News| Naija News

23.11.17

Cheers, Tears for Robert Mugabe

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 Cheers, Tears for Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe
 
Mahmud Jega of the Daily Trust newspaper has weighed into the exit of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe after 37 years of his grip to power.
Only Latin American soldiers once rivalled those of Africa in coup making expertise.
 
In 1991 when Generals of the Soviet Red Army attempted a coup in Moscow, it failed woefully and it led to the breakup of the Soviet Union into fifteen republics. I remember my saying at the time that a Sergeant in the Togolese Army, Gnassingbe Eyadema, and a Master Sergeant in the Liberian Army, Samuel Kanyon Doe, successfully carried out military coups in their countries but Generals who commanded nuclear forces could not do so in Moscow.
 
The military coup, such as it is, that has been unfolding in Zimbabwe since last week has taken African expertise in coup making to another level. In December 1986 Mwalimu Julius Nyerere spoke at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs in Lagos. He said there had been 69 successful military coups in Africa up to that time.
 
Only a year after Nyerere spoke, one of the most dastardly coups ever took place in Burkina Faso where Captain Blaise Compaore killed Captain Thomas Sankara, one of the brightest leaders ever to emerge from Africa. When he heard of the killing at the time, French President Francois Mitterrand said, “What a waste!”
 
I have not done an accurate count but between 1986 and the mid-1990s when coup-making in Africa began to taper off, we must had passed the 100 successful coups mark. Military coups are no longer two a penny in Africa but we had one as recently as 2013 when Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. We had another abortive coup in Burundi in 2015 when General Godefroid Niyombare prematurely announced the sacking of President Pierre Nkurunziza. 
 
One would have thought by now that there are no tricks left to learn in the art of African coup making, until General Constantino Chiwenga of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces came along. The whole world has been trying since last week to make sense out of what he is doing. Soon after President Robert Mugabe sacked his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, General Chiwenga publicly declared that the military would “step in” to stop the in-fighting in ZANU-PF, the liberation movement that has ruled Zimbabwe since the end of British colonisation and White minority rule in March 1980.
 
When I first heard of the declaration, I muttered to myself that a coup was already underway. An Army General does not make that kind of public remark until his tanks were ready to roll. It reminds me of what General Olusegun Obasanjo wrote in his book Not My Will, that when Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed went to his house to tell him about the July 1975 coup that toppled General Gowon, he later realised that telling him was part of the coup’s execution, not planning.
 
Even though their tanks surrounded Mugabe’s house, placed him under house arrest and blocked government buildings, the soldiers did not hurt Mugabe or his hated wife, Grace. Instead they allowed him to receive a phone call from South African President Jacob Zuma, to receive a South African delegation, to attend a graduation ceremony of the Open University in full academic robes, and to undertake protracted negotiations with the coup leaders. The Generals even broadcast television footages of themselves saluting Mugabe and warmly shaking his hand.  This is the most gentle, the most courteous and the most civil coup d’état ever seen in Africa.
 
Why did the Zimbabwean Generals do it that way? One reason is that these soldiers see themselves as a continuation of ZANLA [Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army], the military wing of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe Africa National Union, ZANU. Even though the brutal bush war that ZANLA and ZIPRA fought against Ian Smith’s UDI [Unilateral Declaration of Independence] government ended in 1979 when Mugabe agreed to attend the Lancaster House talks in London, these soldiers believe they are the ideological continuity from that era. They have no intention of overthrowing ZANU-PF from power or harming their revolutionary father, Mugabe. All they want is that he should not sack other revolutionary heroes of that era and place his crafty wife Grace in line to succeed him.  
 
There is also pressure from the Southern Africa Development Community [SADC] whose chairman Jacob Zuma warned that it would not accept an unconstitutional change in Zimbabwe. So the Generals went about removing Mugabe in a “constitutional” manner. They pleaded with him to resign. When he refused, they orchestrated a street demonstration against him last Friday. Yesterday, ZANU-PF’s Central Committee met in Harare and sacked Mugabe as party leader. It then gave him until noon today to resign as president or else the ZANU-PF dominated Parliament would meet tomorrow and impeach him. The vote would be near-unanimous since the opposition parties have long demanded for Mugabe’s impeachment. I was wondering whether these “constitutional” steps will stand up to legal scrutiny since the soldiers are holding a gun to everyone’s head.
 
In writing about Robert Mugabe, I think of three Nigerians in particular who hold [held] him in the highest esteem. One is Malam Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education, who wrote about Mugabe with the highest reverence. The other is my late friend Mohammed Idris Koko, alias Danzaria, who stood outside the gates of Lancaster House in London everyday during the talks to cheer Robert Mugabe, to jeer Joshua Nkomo and to throw eggs at Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, not to mention Ian Smith. 
 
The third Nigerian man I know who loved Mugabe so much was, me. As president of the University of Sokoto Students Union in 1980, I led a massive demonstration by students of four higher institutions to the Government House. There, I delivered a letter to Governor Shehu Kangiwa for onward transmission to President Shehu Shagari to protest the conduct of Lord Soames, the British colonial Governor of Zimbabwe who we accused of trying to rig the transition in favour of Joshua Nkomo. On the night that votes in the Zimbabwe independence election were being counted, I sat close to Cleopas Edwin Murapa and three other Zimbabwean students in exile who the Federal Government had placed in Sokoto’s Federal College of Arts and Science as part of our “frontline state” obligations. When we heard on BBC that Mugabe had won, we danced throughout the night. 
 
The 37 year tenure of Robert Gabriel Mugabe first as prime minister then as president of Zimbabwe has been tumultuous, for want of a better word. Three things caused me to have second thoughts about Robert Mugabe. The first was the civil war known as Gukurahundi in Matabele province, home base of Joshua Nkomo where thousands died in 1981-83. Based on the alleged discovery of weapons in ZAPU farms, Mugabe arrested and incarcerated Lt General Dumiso Dabengwa and Major General Lookout Masuku, the two top commanders of Nkomo’s Zimbabwe Peoples Revolutionary Army [ZIPRA], which fought Ian Smith as fiercely as Mugabe’s ZANLA did.
 
My second disappointment was with the land redistribution program that started in 1987. In 2001 when I said this in my column in New Nigerian, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Nigeria drove from Abuja to Kaduna the next day and engaged me in a long debate. I entirely agreed with him that at the level of sentiment, Zimbabweans were right to think that liberation had not come as long as Whites owned most of the land. Yet, I did not think it was a wise idea to destroy the best commercial farming in Africa in the name of giving pieces of land back to peasant farmers. Since then, Africa has seen the difference between Mugabe’s approach and the Mandela/ANC approach to the same problem in South Africa. 
 
Mugabe was a major bulwark against imperialist meddling in Africa but he did not know when to quit, after 37 years in power and 93 years of age. That was my third and final disappointment.

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