The general belief that “Old wine is the best to savour” deserves some serious scrutiny in the light of recent ignoble “two terms” rant by no other person than controversial Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe at the just concluded African Union gathering in South Africa.
The 25th summit of the African Union-a gathering of the continent’s 54 member countries’ heads of states-has come and gone but with the indefatigable 90 year-old stealing the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
The summit which was held in Jo’burg, South Africa was meant to bring African leaders together and strengthen their commitment to the African course and at the same time identify the problems or challenges that continually halt this resolve.
And it didn’t fail. Nigeria’s General Muhammadu Buhari was a stand-out performer at the gathering. His speech was a sort of galvanizing force that clamoured for selfless service from African leaders to their people. He preached a new dawn in leadership on the continent; a flak that has kept the continent in the doldrums, thus hindering the realization and maximization of its potentials.
The General’s statement was a challenge to the respective African leaders to do more and provide succour to the people they lead- A positive sign of what to expect from the ex-Military leader on home turf.
Buhari’s new found love for true governance and leadership to be replicated both at home and on the continent could be likened to an “Old Wine with exquisite taste.”
Having been in government as a Military head of state and now a president under a civilian dispensation, age and experience seem to have caught up with the General thus, creating a kind of “Wise man” approach to governance and leadership for the betterment of the people.
While the Nigerian president’s speech earned applause on the continent and beyond, his Zimbabwean counterpart-an Old wine too, but seemingly one with a bitter and sour taste-president Robert Mugabe courted controversy and awe for his overtly uncouth rhetoric on two-term limit for presidents on the continent at the summit.
The controversial Zimbabwean leader who is also the chairman of the African Union while delivering his opening speech at the summit scoffed at the popular two-term limits in practice saying, the continent would fare better without it.
“We in Africa put a rope around our neck and say leaders must only have two terms. The two terms could feel as short as two weeks.
“It is a democracy. If people want a leader to continue, let him continue.”
Mugabe’s statement belies the true state of events in his home country, Zimbabwe.
Having overseen the change of political baton from the white rulers to his ZANUPF rebel group -cum -political party in a bloody independent fight 28 years ago, Robert Mugabe’s heroic status as “Man of the People” had gradually declined and seen him transform into a dictator.
His openly divisive rule and penchant for vengeance against the country’s minority white settlers that saw him pursue an aggressive “Land grab” policy was completely in contrast to the ideologies of his late fellow South African veteran, Nelson Mandela. Madiba preached unity and tried as much as possible to mend the walls between the Blacks and Whites instead of re-opening the scars of apartheid and seeking retribution.
Mugabe’s land-grab policy smacks of “payback time” and at the same time “a compensation package” to his loyalists and veterans in his ZANUPF hey-days against white colonialists.
Ideally, the policy would have redressed the wealth and resources imbalance in the land that favoured the minority whites to the majority and ordinary Zimbabweans, if Mugabe had been sincere enough with the program.
His failure to do so saw him take over lands from the minority whites, who unfortunately were the mainstay of Zimbabwe’s agricultural success; responsible for the country’s food sufficiency over the years owing to their heavy investment in the sector.
What followed that takeover was an attendant food crisis. His blind policy of dispossessing white farmers from the lands he claimed were originally blacks’ signaled the beginning of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector decimation. Ordinary black Zimbabweans did not have the wherewithal to keep up with an already established structure that was delicately positioned in the hands of the white farmers that had already made giant strides in mechanizing and commercializing Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector.
Hence, Zimbabwe transformed from a food sufficient nation to a food scrapped one. Tales of hunger became the lot of Zimbabweans as the country struggled to feed her population.
Another criticism his Land grab policy generated was that, it was used to compensate Mugabe’s cronies and ZANUPF fighters that took part in the struggle against white domination. Automatically, it means only few Zimbabweans actually benefitted from the program.
The Gerontocratic leader’s handling of the economy is worse, for lack of a better word to describe it. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has steadily been on a torpid mode for more than a decade out of his 28 year reign as the president. And in an horrific fashion, negative economic theories that were only read and heard of on the pages of textbooks manifested itself in real form on the Zimbabwean economy.
With a chronic hyper-inflation that had reached 80 billion percent as far back as 2009, the Country has painfully watched the Zimbabwean dollar not only going into comatose but eventually withdrawn from circulation and replaced with the American dollar and South African rand.
In effect, the Zim dollar is not worthy of a special recognition as a financial instrument for conducting business and carrying out other economic activities in the country. Rather, Zimbabweans have been forced to go back to medieval times embracing the “Barter system”.
Therefore, I am certain that Zimbabweans would really love to “have rope around their neck by having a two-term limit for president” if they consider the untold hardship and nightmare Robert Mugabe has brought on their country with his abysmal records stated above.
Beyond his ignoble feat at home that has vindicated pro two-term advocates, the AU president’s rant on the issue deserves condemnation when one looks at the impact it could have on the “Burundian impasse.”
President Pierre Nkurunziza’s attempt at foisting a third term agenda on the Burundian nation-a bad idea that might threaten the Arusha agreement that has kept the lid on the country from returning to bloodbath-seem to be making headlines on the continent and the international scene.
Having been through instability from the nineties, the Country heaved a sigh of relief as the Arusha agreement of 2000 was signed thus, bringing an end to the war in the landlocked country.
But Nkurunziza’s third term agenda threatened the whole process and at the same time created panic among Burundi’s Eastern neighbours.
One would have thought the AU summit would have been a veritable platform to address the issue and seek peaceful resolution but, Mugabe’s two-term rants was not only short-sighted but, at the same time came at a wrong time and could directly or indirectly thwart every diplomatic means of saving Burundi from another civil war.
Mugabe’s derision for the two-term status quo if not checked could see Nkurunziza blindly jump onboard and pursue his own personal ambition-a third term agenda-at the expense of the country’s which could further blacken the Old man’s reputation for courting controversy.
In this age of political renaissance blowing across the continent with Ghana, and Bostwana boasting of impeccable democracies with Nigeria recently joining the bandwagon, it comes as a huge shock to hear the Zimbabwean president holding an important post (Chairman) of a supra-national organization like the AU openly canvassing for “Stay-till-you are-fed-up” term for Leaders on the continent- A “Mugacracy” the Zimbabwean leader’s version of democracy.
Too bad I guess. African culture has strong respect for Elders and their views. They are considered mini-gods hence, they are well revered in mediation and conflict dispute.
So when the Zimbabwean president ranted about two-term, I felt let down even though it was just his own opinion.
Mugabe should have seized the opportunity the summit provided to finding a solution to the looming crisis in Bujumbura by using his position at the AU to bring the warring parties to the table.
Rather than seek peace and reach a compromise with Nkurunziza and the opposition, Mugabe’s comments could as well have a negative influence on the Burundian president. The likes of Nkurunziza on the continent might feel relieved and unperturbed by hatching long-term ambitions that clearly violate the peoples’ will and the constitution of the land.
But I guess Mugabe forgot that, “it is not how far but how well.” Spending years in power does not make one an excellent leader neither does it guarantee success in governance.
Examples of presidents with short-term stay but impressive results are Ghana’s John Kuffour, and Botswana’s Festus Mogae. Few in number though, their performances have left sweet memories in the mind of their people while those with lengthy tenures abound on the continent, they have heaped misery on their people and also amass wealth at the expense of their countries. Good examples of such presidents are Mugabe himself, Yahya Jammeh, Yoweri Museveni, Isaiah Aferwaki, Melez Zenawi, Omar Al-Bashir and so on.
Whatever comes out of the Burundian impasse, it is important for the continent to toe the path of vision, pragmatism and resilience in taking “Mother Africa” to the next level.
But to do that, guess the likes of Robert Mugabe should be kept in the archives if the continent really wants to forge ahead. Because Mugabe is an “Old wine unfit for consumption as he has simply gone bad”.