When leaders become enduring sociopaths
THREE things happened over the last few weeks that make Zimbabwe appear like a circus. A real circus, or a zoo, where you have to keep asking, so who is who in the zoo?
Before I go into that, it’s important to underscore key issues about leadership in the twenty first century. First, in this millennium, if the change outside a country is faster than the change inside it, then the end is near. Second, this millennium requires leaders that are of sound mind and clarity of purpose. By purpose, I mean a clear vision of how they want to advance the country and make not only a tangible difference but a remarkable and transformational one too. Third, leadership in this millennium needs a leader who smells or can read the air, that means they get it. Japanese youths use the phrase “kuuki yomenai” to describe folks that cannot ‘read’ the air.
Leaders that are NOT kuuki yomenai understand how global politics works, how and when to go against the current, when to advance a cause and how to do so. They understand how to deal with issues in a twenty first fashion conscious of the fact that we are in a world of fibre optics, a world of the Internet and twenty four hour news cycles, a world of drones and unmanned vehicles, a world beyond the physical, but also a growing virtual world. This century requires, not a dinosaur, but a sharp and alert leader who is ever hitting the ground running.
The tragedy in Zimbabwe is that its leadership is not clued on. The country is pretty much rudderless. Unlike Kenya, where you have young people like Uhuru Kenyatta, Zimbabwe is presided over by a dinosaur whose mind is so gridlocked in the politics of the 70s. You can argue any way you want, but there is no way someone aged ninety years can have his faculties together competently enough to deal with modern day complexities. This is even made more complex when he chooses a cabinet whose average age is above the national retirement age. A country’s progress is as good as its leadership. Nothing more! It does not matter how many resources you claim to have. You basically won’t go anywhere. So Zimbabwe can only go one way with its leadership and that is southwards.Advertisement
Robert Mugabe is a witty politician, but a man so out of touch nevertheless. His relevance belongs to three decades ago. That Zimbabwe is at peace today is not a function of good leadership. It’s a clear case of serendipity. The first thing that boggles the mind is that weeks ago, Robert Mugabe expressed shock that the country’s roads had so many potholes. One has to be extremely clueless not to know that Zimbabwe’s roads have potholes. Some of Zimbabwe’s roads, especially in high density areas in the capital Harare have had the tarmac virtually disappear. Such roads were tarred in the colonial period, but the asphalt has disappeared over the years.
Only an inept leader would not figure out that officials are actually sprucing roads ahead of a trip by the President. In Harare, this should have been clear to Mugabe when the City of Harare patched roads to his house ahead of his daughter’s wedding. It should also have been clear to him when they had to patch up overnight a road to one of the late former minister’s house. It should also be very clear to Mugabe that the City of Harare only patches his road from his house to his office in the city and from his house to his rural home.
Every sane Zimbabwean knows that roads in Zimbabwe have deteriorated since the late 90s. When I first travelled to Zimbabwe in 1998, the highways were beginning to look tired. Every Zimbabwean has had to deal with potholes playing havoc with their vehicles. In addition, the average Zimbabwean knows that the majority of tarred wide and narrow strip roads in Zimbabwe were built by the colonial government and have reached their useful life. The least the present government needed to do was maintain and improve them over and above building new intercity toll expressways with secure embankments nicely finished with adequate road signs and telephones for emergency road assistance. But Alas, Mugabe has presided over the collapse of this infrastructure and he doesn’t even know it! A leader who is so out of touch is not only a danger to himself, but a threat to regional security and the interests of a young generation.
An errant mafia-minded first lady
The second incident relates to comments allegedly made by the first lady Grace Mugabe last week at her farm in the company of supporters that want to use her to tip political scales in their favour in the ruling party’s factional battles. Grace threatened to deal with a deputy minister whom she accuses of stalling her desires of acquiring more land. Grace went further to reveal what had widely been reported weeks ago and denied by Zanu PF, that the eviction of settlers at Manzou Farm, a wildlife sanctuary, was driven by her desires to have more land. Grace accused deputy minister Fortune Chasi of making “false allegations that she engineered the eviction of a certain sangoma who was staying at Henderson Farm, yet the sangoma was expelled by the Mashonaland Central leadership”. She further alleged that she had running battles in the Mazoe area with people who accused her of grabbing land, including a farm belonging to Interfresh. She accused political opponents of using youths to stifle her business projects in the Mazoe area.
Grace made two interesting revelations in her diatribe. First, she revealed that deputy minister Chasi was offered land by the governor and he refused to take it. She seemed miffed that the deputy minister refused to take the land, which to her meant that he is being used by whites. Second, she also revealed that Chasi, who is a legislator in the area had mobilised the settlers at Manzou sanctuary to take her to court while stalling her acquisition designs.
In the first revelation, Grace unwittingly tells us how the system compromises party functionaries. Clearly Chasi did not apply for the land according to Grace’s revelation. He was offered land by the governor, and he refused it. Grace implies that Chasi’s refusal to take the land is an unforgivable act of selling out to whites. If you had any doubts about the allegations that judges were compromised by taking land, you must read between the lines of Grace Mugabe’s attack on Fortune Chasi.
The second revelation carries further sub-texts. The good news is that Zimbabwe’s constitution provided a window for the downtrodden. Grace is so livid that when she wanted the piece of Manzou farm for herself, which she could only do by evicting the current settlers on the farm, she alleges that Chasi, who is a lawyer, mobilised the villagers to go to court. She thinks that the villagers are so simple-minded and rudimentary that it was not their initiative to go to court. It can only be the legislator Chasi who inspired the lawsuit by the villagers. She concluded by saying that she “would reign him in”, whatever that means.
It’s needless to say that when Obama once remarked that Africa needs strong institutions and not strongmen, this is exactly what he meant. The abuse of the led by their leaders is certainly not what independence is about in Africa. If there is any doubt that Zimbabwe has become a banana republic, here is evidence from Zimbabwe’s President’s wife. Grace demonstrated her mafia-style tendencies and designs to protect her ill-gotten riches which know no bounds. I have in an earlier article adequately covered Grace Mugabe’s primitive accumulation of wealth over the years (https://www.newzimbabwe.com/news-15219-Mugabe+fighting+corruption+Forget+it!/news.aspx)
The third incident that reveals the decay of leadership in Zimbabwe was Mugabe’s shock that youths at his party’s conference were hungry and unfed. He was so gobsmacked by this situation that after lambasting his party officials like Didymus Mutasa, he quickly ordered managers at his farm in Norton to provide 1000 tonnes of maize and 20-30 herd of cattle. Of course it probably never occurred to him that the 1000 tonnes will have to be ground into maize meal which would take days and slaughtering 30 cows would require a commercial abattoir and the meat would not be available for consumption in the duration of the youth conference. That simply means unlike in the past where Zanu PF meetings are a feasting expedition laden with exotic foods and beverages, this conference is a sad reflection of what has happened to the country in a short space of one year since Mugabe won the elections last year “resoundingly”.
The incident showed how extremely out of touch the President of a small country like Zimbabwe with about fourteen million people is. It boggles the mind how Mugabe could dig deep into his personal granary to pull out 1000 tonnes to feed party youths who had been hungry for a day, when 18,000 families that failed to harvest anything, were flooded out of their homes at Tokwe Mukosi, have been living on empty stomachs at a camp in Chingwizi for several months. Their situation would have been even more desperate had the detested NGOs not come to their rescue. Zimbabwe’s population is smaller than the population of Tokyo. How then is it that a President, who, if he was in Tokyo, would be a governor or a mayor, be so out of touch?
Lend me some smiles! Please!
The fourth and final incident is the one that takes the biscuit. It would have been so hilarious were it not so serious, exasperating, insulting and humiliating. Speaking at his Zanu PF central committee meeting in Harare, Mugabe pleaded with Zimbabweans to temporarily ignore the country’s economic difficulties and smile at visitors coming for the SADC Heads of State summit slated for later this month. Contrary to his false utterances a few weeks ago that the economy is on the mend and poised for growth, Mugabe pleaded,
“We know that our people are going through a very difficult period and that there are no jobs. However, we are asking you to smile and show the region that we are a hospitable people. That we can welcome visitors, let us all smile and for just a moment forget our problems. The people … as a whole should not be found wanting in expressing their joy along places where they may be visited, so that we are not a morose, sorrowing and grieved people.”
Recently, Mugabe was claiming that the economy is fast recovering. Perhaps after realising that he was probably out of his mind, or perhaps that he had smoked something illegal, today he asks the citizenry to put on fake smiles for visitors. When I showed my friends the report, they were besides themselves with laughter. But I did not laugh for I appreciate how grave the situation in Zimbabwe is. The President is basically asking his compatriots to rig smiles. If he has no shame to ask citizens to rig smiles, what about elections?
Mugabe is asking Zimbabweans to “park” their troubles and act like robots that act on instruction. Nothing can be more insulting and selfish than a rich 90 year old man with a young wife, with at least eighteen farms, who can give away 1000 tonnes of maize and 30 cows to starving youths at the click of a finger, who can fly away to Singapore fourteen hours away for eye check-ups, who gets his own roads paved ahead of his trips, who can spent $5 million dollars on his daughter’s wedding, telling the whole country to pretend to be happy and rig smiles so that the eight or so heads of states coming for the SADC meeting will go back with the false impression that everything is fine in Zimbabwe. Seriously!
Mugabe is living a lie. His Presidency is anchored on a lie. His wife is living a lie, and pretty many of his ministers are living a lie. But the average Joe in Zimbabwe is living the real life of hardship and experiencing the actual school of hard knocks. When a leader is so out of touch, it’s an insult on the intelligence of his followers. And when change is happening faster outside a country than inside it, the end is near.
Sayonara, for now!
Ken Yamamoto is a researcher on Africa at an Institute in Tokyo. He researches and travels frequently in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. He was recently impressed by the transformation Rwanda is going through. You can contact Ken on firstname.lastname@example.org