THE political personality and historical project of Robert Mugabe is bound to arrest the attention of thinkers and writers for a long time to come.
The Zimbabwean President has attracted extreme reactions that range from worship to caricature. In one person, Robert Mugabe combines a bullet dodging villain for many, and a gallant liberator for others. Some Zimbabweans have publicly prayed for his death while others have openly pleaded with the almighty that he should be given an eternal life. Little attention has been paid to just how much of all of us is in Mugabe and how much of Mugabe is in all of us as subjects in the present world order.
For that reason Mugabe’s life and health has become an important subject in the media and social circles. The event of his death is one event that is so much awaited for by his enemies, of which he has many, and supposed friends who are getting fewer by the day.
My aim in this article is in actuality to argue that there is nothing amazing about Mugabe and the many events and incidents that he has occasioned. What is amazing is that many of us, including those who are supposed to know better are amazed at the melodrama and spectacles that recent history has witnessed around the person, family, party and country of Mugabe.
I also wish to establish that Mugabe is a product of the African colonial condition as much as he is a creature of his own excesses and weaknesses and the faults of those who advise him. Finally I wish to draw the attention of the thinking world to the possibility of economic recolonisation, a coup and or civil war in Zimbabwe. Once again, I must state, this article is written for political thinkers and activists.
His Excellency the Head of State
Recently deceased Kenyan historian and political scientist Ali Mazrui ignited a high voltage debate in the African academy when he noted that Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was a “Leninist Czar” who was a “great African” but a “terrible Ghanaian.” The combative Mazrui insisted that “while Nkrumah entered the leadership of Ghana as a revolutionary, he left as a despot,” as opposed to Jerry Rawlings” who; Mazrui said “came in as a tyrant but left as a revolutionary.”
From where I am standing, it is no difficult to see Mugabe in the same light in which Mazrui saw Nkrumah. In his combative Pan- African rhetoric and open challenge and condemnation of western imperialism, Mugabe has fashioned himself and earned a lot of admiration and support in Africa and the global South as a gallant fighter. In Zimbabwe however, Mugabe is identified with many mass-graves, ‘degrees in violence’ that have maimed many. He is identified with a sordid political personalism that has seen him ditch his war time friends to promote his wife who is known as just a trendy shopper and not a revolutionary.Advertisement
Instead of being identified as the ‘father of the nation’ or one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the nation, Mugabe has increasingly become identified more with the party Zanu-PF than with the nation of Zimbabwe, and lately Mugabe has opened himself to observation as a political individualist who can sacrifice not only the nation but the party itself to protect family and personal gains and fortunes.
Not only Mugabe, but the African head of state as a subject has exhibited a vast multiplicity of phenomenona ranging from the eccentric, the ridiculous to the bizarre. The titanic and the exemplary Kwame Nkrumah encouraged some monikers of himself such as “the redeemer,” and the “messiah” to such others as “Star of Africa,” and even “Iron boy” and “show boy.” Robert Mugabe might not be carrying such titles openly, but the way he carries himself and discharges his power is not different to what Nkrumah and even an Idi Amin did.
It is a question that concerns my discourse here why such educated elites as Mugabe and Nkrumah would end up at the same level with the forgivably rough and unschooled Idi Amin who fancied himself as “the conqueror of the British empire.” It is not enough to endorse Lord John Acton in that “power tends to corrupt” its holders and turn them into irrational demigods. It is not even enough to blame the fawning flatterers and self-serving sycophants who surround the African head of state, singing his praises and telling him or her that he or she is born of the gods and such other nonsense.
I seek in this article to go further and observe how ‘coloniality of power’ is a phenomenon that can help us understand how nationalism itself and the struggle against colonialism turned nationalists into creatures of power and war, and into the caricatures that Mugabe and others have become. The prevalent thinking that leaders are either born or made is also inadequate, it is truer that leaders are produced and conditioned by ideas and by political and historical conditions that form their political climate and times.
Coloniality of Power and the Power of Coloniality
It is a stubborn question that African thinkers must answer, just how the freedom fighter degenerated into an enemy of freedom, and how the liberating nationalist leader who fought colonialism easily became a coloniser after political independence.
Coloniality of power is a term that was coined by Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano to describe exactly how slavish conditions and mentalities persist after the abolition of slavery and how colonial conditions and colonial relations remain after decolonisation, making independence a myth as after dethroning the settler, nationalist leaders replace the settler in being the new colonials.
When Robert Mugabe tells Zimbabweans that he will not leave the presidency of Zimbabwe until he is mad, he is actually being insane because his statement is no different from the vow by Ian Smith that “not in a million years” would blacks in Zimbabwe inherit leadership of the country. Frantz Fanon put it even better when he observed that at a certain point the native who fights colonialism aspires to be a coloniser. Not only that, but the former freedom fighter tends to believe that he owns the country and that the people owe their ‘independence’ and their lives to him. When Mugabe told Tony Blair to let him “keep my Zimbabwe” he was saying more than Zimbabwean self-determination but also his delusion that Zimbabwe is his property. Kwame Nkrumah went further; his autobiography is named after the country; Ghana: The autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah. There is a refusal to separate leader from the land as much as the leader, in a spirited way aspires to eternity and to live forever just as the settler Ian Smith wished to keep alive for and keep blacks from freedom for a million years.
Nihilist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche put it in another way by observing that “he who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Nietzsche added meaningfully that “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Following Nietzsche’s argument and obviously rejecting his own nihilist coloniality, African students of power can understand how their leaders fought the monsters of colonialism and the leaders themselves turned into colonial monsters. We can observe that the abyss of imperialism that our nationalists and Marxists gazed into also gazed into them and turned them into the abyssal monstrosities that we can see today. Artisanal Ugandan intellectual Mahmood Mamdani provided a telling description of how the settler and native relations of colonial Rwanda led to the 1994 Rwandan genocide that imperiled a million Africans. Because of the long history of colonialism and the strict divisions between the settlers and the natives; even after the settler had departed, the Hutu people felt themselves as the authentic natives and the Tutsis as the new aliens and settlers who had to be deleted from the land.
What we have taken for granted in the African academy is that Nationalism and Marxism as ideologies that were used to drive African decolonisation were themselves colonial inventions that could not produce complete decolonisation. Nationalism, as such decolonial thinkers as Puerto-Rican sociologist Ramon Grosfoguel have noted, originated with the imperial and colonial idea of the nation-state in the 16th century Europe and was exported to the global South through imperial and colonial expansion. As for Marxism, Karl Marx could cry that “workers of the world unite” but it is known that workers of the world because of race and racism have never been equal or the same. It is also known that Marx himself celebrated the colonisation of India as the extension of civilisation. Combined, Nationalism and Marxism are colonial relics from the Eurocentric library that could not produce complete African decolonisation and that produced black but essentially colonial leaders who have continued to visit upon Africans the same coloniality that settlers such as Ian Smith did. Colonialism without race and racism is what indigenous Zimbabweans are enduring as I write. Mugabe and Zanu PF might have deracialised Zimbabwe but they have not decolonised power in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe might have defeated Ian Smith but he has not defeated the colonialist in himself, the monster that possessed him in the abyss of the struggle, and the imperialist in his own mentality.
When, not so long ago, Mugabe told a SADC gathering to understand the warlike speeches and interference in politics of his service chiefs, he spoke more of himself than of the service chiefs. Mugabe’s statement was that the service chiefs were still in liberation war mode. This was not a convincing statement said before other SADC leaders with liberation war credentials, but more revealing was the statement of Mugabe’s own permanent war mood. He carries war wherever he goes, and if there are no more enemies to fight he invents them, and lately he has found some within his own party.
In Mugabe, Nationalism degenerated into nativism when only those people that supported the partisan side of Zanu-PF were Zimbabweans; otherwise the rest of the Zimbabweans in Zapu and other opposition parties became aliens and candidates for death. From the nativism of Zanu-PF there is recently degeneration to personalism, where Mugabe is the party and the party is Mugabe and family. The nation was long left behind and the party has become peripheral as the person and family of Mugabe become the cause of the ‘struggle.’ So as Mugabe leaves power, he leaves as a damaged, diminished and reduced individual failure; not a revolutionary.
It is my argument that coloniality of power and the power of coloniality are the problem in Zimbabwe and In Africa. Elections free or unfair, regime change from inside or from the outside are in my view not enough remedies to address the present crisis of power, knowledge and being in Zimbabwe and in Africa. When we understand coloniality of power and the power of coloniality in Zimbabwe, it will become evident that in actuality there is no difference between Zanu-PF and such a party as the MDC-T. Recent history has shown a willingness in Tsvangirai himself and his supporters to turn Tsvangirai into another Mugabe as Emmerson Munangagwa is currently being blown up to fit the shoes of Mugabe. As long as power itself is colonised, and as long as our thinking and take on politics remains hostage to colonial knowledge, power and being, we remain what Grosfoguel has called “colonial subjects.”
The Recolonisation of Zimbabwe
By recolonisation of Zimbabwe I am not suggesting that Zimbabwe was ever completely decolonised. I am only seeking to draw the attention of the thinking world to how the rhetoric of decolonisation such as the nativist Zimbabwean land reform and economic indigenization actually mask deep coloniality and criminal imperiality. The targeted economic sanctions that criminalised the travels and businesses of certain figures in Zanu PF opened room for Western white and dodgy, shaddy and dingy business people to trade in Zimbabwean diamonds with Zimbabwean politicians in the international black market. For that reason Zimbabwean diamonds were still getting into the European market for the benefit of Europeans and a few powerful Zimbabweans; while Zimbabweans in the main remain the poorer.
Recently, the UK-based Mail Online mentioned how British business mogul with an unhygienic past, Nicholas Adolf von Hessen was funding the political rise of Grace Mugabe, while banking on her rise to increase his control of the Zimbabwean economy. In action in Zimbabwe is not only this one business mogul from Europe, but troops of them from China and elsewhere pushing their luck behind the scenes using powerful Zimbabwean politicians. Some of these western and eastern mafia types are gun runners, sanctions busters and mercenaries who are fronts for western governments.
So in reality while Mugabe might appear to be indigenizing the economy and giving land to the people, silently in the dark, out of the news, dark European businesses are still siphoning Zimbabwean wealth. The poor people of Zimbabwe whether in Zanu-PF or in the opposition remain poor unidentifiable voting objects who really don’t know what they are voting for as elections remain what Thandika Mkandawire called a game in “changeless choice.”
What we must bear in mind presently is that real colonialism was not political but economic to start with, and that it was pioneered first by businesses, business people and companies. The British South Africa Company of Cecil John Rhodes and the East India Company were companies that on behalf of the British Empire conquered and colonised territories that were later turned into colonial countries and nation states as we know them today. My concern as I write is that presently in Zimbabwe colonial investors and other companies are busy shaping political power to position themselves for control of the country, right under the nose of Mugabe’s volcanic rhetoric of decolonisation and nationalism. Coloniality of Power and Coloniality of Knowledge work exactly in this way; where we are all colonial subjects, perpetuating coloniality and imperiality but not knowing it, and even claiming to be fighting imperialism and indigenizing the economy. These two kinds of coloniality lead to a situation where we become bodies without being, people without content that Frantz Fanon called the helpless ‘wretched of the earth’ who are the living dead, this condition of the victims of coloniality is what has been called ‘coloniality of being,’ social scientist have referred to this as dehumanisation.
Zimbabweans today, in the main are the wretched of the earth, at home and in exile. Not only victims of Gukurahundi or those of Murambatsvina, or those of political violence during elections; but today as I write Joyce Mujuru and Didymus Mutasa can stand with me, an Imbovane Yamahlabezulu founder member and cry about Zanu PF and the cruelty of Mugabe. Not only the vendors at Lobengula Street in Bulawayo are crying, or the hawkers in Mbare Musika, but also Mutumwa Mawere and Ray Kaukonde can witness that something is wrong in the country and no one is safe. Who ever thought that one day Didymus Mutasa will in essence stand with the rest of us screaming that SADC should stop Mugabe?
A coup and a Civil War in Zimbabwe
If one has read this short article slowly and well, it would appear that the factionalism and party fights in Zimbabwe are much ado about nonsense. All of us are busy fighting for positions that have no content and for power that does not exist. The real power that still controls Zimbabwe is not even with Mugabe who appears to be a god. The real power is still with those who invented the nation state and invented nationalism and the present version of democracy. The hidden hand in world history that is present even when it appears to be absent is calling the shots in Zimbabwe.
Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Emmerson Munangagwa might appear to be powerful agents of power but they are just accessories of a modern world that is still hostage to coloniality and imperiality. The collapsing state, the decaying political party, democracy and civil society are all colonial inventions and relics that are actually the problem rather than the solution in the country and Africa at large. It is for that reason that the fights in civil society organisation are more about keeping jobs, controlling donor funds than producing a new citizen in Zimbabwe who can change the world.
Because of such people like Joyce Mujuru who had everything to lose and have really lost it, their supporters in the intelligence, the army, the police and the war veterans have become poor people with nothing to lose, but their poverty and death. Such people as Emmerson Munangagwa who appear to have gained everything and are not willing to lose their gains or to share them, also have sympathisers in the intelligence, the army, the police and war veterans who are willing to die to protect their new success and future. For that reason, Zimbabwe is fertile for a coup and or a civil war. Making it worse is the presence of gun runners and big money western and eastern mafia types who are willing to fund anyone and anything that can create the right conditions for the expansion of their empires and the interests of the imperial countries.
For Mugabe who might have genuinely believed that Solomon Mujuru and his wife were about to assassinate him; the bleeding truth is that he is not any safer with the retreat of the Mujurus, one to the grave and another to the political wilderness. The closest people to Mugabe now are the new assassins. Where power is colonised and colonial in nature, or where the imperial and colonial paradigm of war is at play, politics is in the words of Otto van Clausewitz “war by other means.” Like Kwame Nkrumah who had a CIA sponsored coup conducted against him, Mugabe is as powerless as any of his victims in this colonial battle for the control of the politics and the resources of Zimbabwe. In a world governed by coloniality ironies and paradoxes are abound. The trusted Generals of Muammar Gaddaffi were the first to defect and stick the knife when the carrot and stick of NATO arrived in Libya. The African and Libyan strongmen was killed and dragged in the streets like a real wretched of the earth by Libyans young enough to be his grandchildren; a NATO soldier did not pull the trigger, a young Libyan did, for NATO. Libyans are worse off than they were under Gaddaffi, but surely and verily, Libyan oil is flowing into France and elsewhere in to the imperial and colonial West. In my next article I shall ponder on a possible wayfoward for Zimbabwe and for Zimbabwean politics.
Dinizulu Mbikokayise Macaphulana is a Pretoria based Zimbabwean Political Scientist and Semiotician: firstname.lastname@example.org