On 21st November 2017, 93 year old strongman and leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe finally threw in the towel and resigned, after ruling his nation for 37 long years.
This article is not interested in neither demonizing nor praising Robert Mugabe, but instead in identifying salient lessons from the life of this colossus.
No matter what you think of the man, the fact remains that he has greatness in him. Whether he used that greatness for good or for bad or for both, is a question for another day.
LESSON NO 1: YOUR BACKGROUND SHOULD NOT DICTATE YOUR DESTINY
Robert Mugabe was born to a very poor family in Southern Rhodesia. His father Gabriel, was a carpenter, while his mother taught Christian catechism to village children. His older brother Robert, died of common diarrhea and his other older brother Michael died from eating poisoned maize.
Mugabe grew up in abject poverty, but that did not stop his rise to greatness. To add to his adversity, his father Gabriel abandoned his family and married another woman.
Robert Mugabe’s mother could not afford to pay his tuition fees, and Robert has to start teaching part time in school, in other to supplement his own tuition fee. He was paid $2 per month .
Later, his father Gabriel returned back to the family with 3 children from his other wife, and then died shortly, leaving Robert Mugabe to take care of his three siblings and three half siblings.
Robert Mugabe is many things, but not a lazy man.
LESSON NO 2: EDUCATION AND HARDWORK IS YOUR TICKET OUT OF POVERTY
Understanding that he came from an impoverished background, Robert Mugabe focused single mindedly on extreme hard work.
Mugabe excelled at school, where he was a secretive and solitary child, preferring to read alone rather than playing sport or socialising with other children. He was taunted by many of the other children, who regarded him as a coward and a mother’s boy.
His single mindedness and dedication to study, earned him a scholarship to at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
One of the reasons Robert Mugabe sustained his power for so long was a direct result of his extensive education and cultivated intelligence.
- He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and English literature from University of Fort Harare.
- A Bachelor of Education degree by correspondence from the University of South Africa.
- Another Bachelor of Administration by correspondence from the University of London.
- He attended the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute in Winneba.
He will go on to acquire several other degrees from various universities abroad.
He is one of Africa’s most educated head of state. Even his political adversaries had to give credit to him for his mental clarity and colourful oratory.
Tony Blair, former Prime minister of Great Britain and a strong opponent of Robert Mugabe, commented that Mugabe’s “self-discipline, intelligence and appetite for hard work were remarkable”.
Smith and Simpson noted that the Zimbabwean leader had been “a serious young man, something of a loner, diligent, hard-working, a voracious reader who used every minute of his time, not much given to laughter: but above all, single-minded”.
LESSON NO 3: DETERMINATION TODAY, LEADS TO SUCCESS TOMORROW. NO CONDITION IS PERMANENT.
When Robert Mugabe puts his mind to achieve something, he will do whatever it takes to achieve it. On one hand, this is a good trait, because achieving greatness in any field requires such mental fierceness and tenacity to push through all the stubborn obstacles in your path.
On the other hand this trait could be abused, as we see in the life of Robert Mugabe, when he rolled over any kind of opposition to cling onto power. He forced his will upon the people, and even when he clearly lost an election in 2008 to Morgan Tsvangirai, he held on with a power sharing deal, and eventually ousted Tsvangirai by 2013.
Once Mugabe turned his attention to politics, there was no stopping him. He fought single mindedly for the independence of Zimbabwe, then known as southern Rhodesia. He was imprisoned for almost 11 years starting from March 1964 to November 1974.
While in prison, he was mentally and physically tortured in an attempt to break his resolve.
According to Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, who was Mugabe’s priest during his imprisonment, Mugabe got through the experience “partly through the strength of his spirituality” but also because his “real strength was study and helping others to learn”.
Immediately after his release, he crossed over to Mozambique and joined a guerrilla warfare against Southern Rhodesian white leaders.
Mugabe called for the overthrow of Rhodesia’s predominantly white government, the execution of President Ian Smith and his “criminal gang”, the expropriation of white-owned land, and the transformation of Rhodesia into a one-party Marxist state.
Mugabe declared: “Let us hammer [the white man] to defeat. Let us blow up his citadel. Let us give him no time to rest. Let us chase him in every corner. Let us rid our home of this settler vermin”.
LESSON NO 4: LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP. A RIGHT INTENTION MAY NOT GUARANTEE A FAVORABLE OUTCOME.
It is important to always calculate the long term effect of your every action. You may regret decisions you take when angry or under strong emotion no matter your intention.
The destruction of the Zimbabwean economy started with the violent seizure of large white owned farm by supporters of Robert Mugabe.
Why did Robert Mugabe decide to seize these large farms, and in the process even leading to the violent death of many of the white owners ?
The reason is simple. Righteous Anger.
39% of Zimbabwe’s land was under the ownership of around 6000 white large-scale commercial farmers, while 4% was owned by black small-scale commercial farmers, and 41% was ‘communal land’ where 4 million people lived, often in overcrowded conditions.
Mugabe has initially agreed before independence that he will leave the minority white farmers alone, and only buy land from willing sellers. But the whites held onto the land, and even the government found it difficult to get good land.
The equation was unfairly unbalanced, a small minority foreign base still ruled over the economy of Zimbabwe, despite its independence.
So Mugabe finally struck out against the white farmers and violently took the lands.
Unfortunately, this action did not go down well with foreign powers, who immediately imposed devastating sanctions on Zimbabwe which coupled with the Lack of fertilizers and inexperienced farmers sent the Zimbabwe economy into a tailspin.
By 2007, Zimbabwe had the highest inflation rate in the world, at 7600%. By 2008, inflation exceeded 100,000% and a loaf of bread cost a third of the average daily wage. Increasing numbers of Zimbabweans relied on remittances from relatives abroad. 80%of Zimbabweans are unemployed.
LESSON NO 5: A LITTLE SIN ALLOWED, GROWS UNTIL IT CONSUMES YOU.
Robert Mugabe started out as an upright man, he was hardworking, determined and straight forward. He is a Marxist at heart, who believed in the equality of all men. But along the line, unlike Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, he compromised his standards.
In 1984 Mugabe drew up a “leadership code” which prohibited any senior figure from obtaining more than one salary or owning over 50-acres of agricultural land. This measure was done ostensibly to stop corruption in high places.
However, Mugabe compromised. He gave exception to General Solomon Mujuru to expand his business empire, resulting in him becoming one of the Zimbabwe’s wealthiest people. Growing corruption among the socio-economic elite generated resentment among the wider population, much of which were living in poverty.
It wasn’t long before most of his close associates and elite members joined the corruption bandwagon, even his first wife was accused of being corrupt.
LESSON NO 6 : SLAY QUEENS CAN SLAY YOUR DESTINY.
Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron, was Mugabe’s “confidante and only real friend”, being “one of the few people who could challenge Mugabe’s ideas without offending him”.
Mugabe loved and respected his wife, and everything was just fine with him. Sally Hayfron was well liked by Mugabe’s power allies, but while married to Hayfron, in 1987 Mugabe began an extra-marital affair with his secretary, Grace Marufu; she was 41 years his junior and at the time was also married to Stanley Goreraza.
Grace Marufu was a go-gether, a slay queen, an arrogant, high tempered and selfish woman. Following Hayfron’s death in 1992, Mugabe and Marufu were married in a large Catholic wedding ceremony in August 1996.
Grace Mugabe in no small measure played a huge part in his disgraceful fall. She began to burn everything around him ostracizing the ageing Mugabe from the liberation family that had sustained him throughout his 36-year reign.
Yet she knew little about the dynamics of power. Like most people, she thought power in Zimbabwe resided in Mugabe and was sexually transmitted. He neglected and even antagonized the old power base of Mugabe.
He fought Mugabe’s vice president, a power broker known as “the crocodile”, in her attempt to take over power from her husband.
She made Mugabe to sack the crocodile, his long-time supporter and announced her intention to take over the Vice presidency. This was her undoing and also the beginning of the end for the great Mugabe.
Today “the crocodile” Emmerson Mnangagwa is the new leader of Zimbabwe, and Grace has gone into self imposed exile.
LESSON 7: BOW OUT WHEN THE OVATION IS LOUDEST.
Mugabe should have bowed out a long time ago, when the ovation was loudest. He did a lot of good for Zimbabwe in his early years, but with old age, he began to run out of ideas, and allowed his much less exposed wife to run critical affairs.
Men like Nelson Mandela are rare. These are men who are in full control of their faculties. But power is the most intoxicating drug. Most African leaders will rather die, than relinquish power. Great Muammar Gaddafi had to die like a rat.
It pays to know when the ovation is loudest, and bow out with your full honor.
Like him or hate him. Robert Mugabe has completed his long journey, and he lived a long life still in control of his senses. Learn from his victories, his mistakes and his failures, and aspire to greatness.
Greatness is available to anyone !
Engr Ifeanyi Okoro