Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bye, bye Mugabe; Rust in piece

Zimbabwe's Mugabe has conceded defeat -report
Thu 3 Apr 2008, 5:34 GMT
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JOHANNESBURG, April 3 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has admitted to his family and advisers that he has lost the most important election of his 28-year rule, South African financial daily Business Day reported on Thursday.

Mugabe lost control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980 and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said he had also been defeated in a presidential election last Saturday and should concede defeat.

Business Day said Mugabe had privately conceded defeat and was deciding if he should contest a run-off vote needed because MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to secure a clear majority.

As Mugabe goes home to shower, I'm trying to think whether to view him as a hero or as a villain. I'll try to base my decision on three things: land reforms, commitment to the independence of Zimbabwe and his legacy.

His land reforms, one of the main ingredients of his downfall, were well-intentioned. It is difficult to justify a situation where the majority black population owns less than half the arable land of their fathers, a situation similar to Kenya before independence. I've met a few Zimbabweans who think Mugabe was right to take over white lands. It sounded reasonable for Mugabe to ask Britain to compensate the whites they had brought to Zimbabwe. But things went horribly wrong when Mugabe turned to his people and started seeing them as enemies for simply opposing his methods.

Mugabe thumbed his nose at the west for years against the backdrop of economic sanction and diplomatic isolation. Apart from the land issue, this is one of the reasons why few African leaders openly criticised the man. They understood the oppression Mugabe himself had withstood and the hands of Britain (he was jailed for 10 years in the period leading to 1974). They also understood why he wanted to kick out the white settlers from the land of his people.

Mugabe's legacy for Africa is mixed. At home, he leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of his people. Abroad, his name evokes mixed emotions. Largely, I feel his legacy is a negative one. There are few enduring lessons from his rulership. A positive one, though, is that he had the courage to concede defeat and walk away without having to be pushed out by the gun. Interestingly too, although it could have been inadvertent, Zimbabwe under Mugabe retained a little mentioned law that could help many AFrican nations. It is a provision for a rerun in case a presidential election produces no clear winner. It is doubtful Mugabe retained it out of altruism, but as of yesterday, the country was preparing for a rerun now that his closest rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, did not attain the 50+1 majority needed to get him the presidency.

Like Daniel arap Moi in 2002, Mugabe has tasted defeat and will walk away a proud man. I do not see him going for the rerun.

Like a new spanner in the mechanic's workshop, Mugabe came in strong, shining like tempered steel. Now he walks away rusted, not out of good use but out of internal acidosis. On the whole, I give him 4 out of 10.

God bless Africa.

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