News / Africa

Is Mugabe an Entrenched Leader or a Changed Man?

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive for his inauguration as President, in Harare, August 22, 2013.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive for his inauguration as President, in Harare, August 22, 2013.
Anita Powell
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has been sworn in after another election that critics and observers say was marred. Mugabe was unapologetic as he took another oath of office despite widespread claims of rigging. 

Robert Mugabe once said he would rule Zimbabwe until he is 100.

On Thursday, as he took his seventh oath of office as Zimbabwe’s leader, that prospect seemed increasingly likely. Mugabe was re-elected July 31 with 61 percent of the vote - in balloting that the opposition and Western powers deemed to be rigged.

The opposition MDC party boycotted the ceremony where Mugabe pledged to serve another five years. That commits him to being in office until the age of 94. He says he will run again after that.

Months before his re-election Mugabe said “my people still need me.”  He is the only post-independence leader Zimbabwe has known.

Analyst Tom Wheeler, a former South African diplomat, says Mugabe showed promise as an emerging leader in the early 1980s, when he rose to power as a freedom fighter who battled to end white rule and achieve independence for Zimbabwe.

But Wheeler says Mugabe’s chief weakness comes straight out of an ancient Greek drama: Pride.

"He seems to have fallen into the trap of a typical African leader of that era who could not foresee the possibility of giving up power. That the idea of free and fair elections, which would lead to his departure from the scene, is just not thinkable and he remains almost one of the last of that particular era of leader… so, in one sense, he’s a clever, well-educated man who did good things for Zimbabwe in the beginning. But there were also some really bad things,” said Wheeler.

Mugabe’s record has indeed been a mottled one.
When the bespectacled, suit-wearing leader travelled to England in 1979 to negotiate the nation’s independence from Britain, former white Zimbabwean leader Ian Smith described Mugabe as “reasonable.”

In his first post-election speech in 1980, he called on Zimbabweans of all sides to forget their racial divides and devote themselves to their shared future. He urged them to “turn our swords into plowshares” and to join hands.
That inclusive Mugabe didn’t last long. In 1982, soldiers under his command killed an estimated 20,000 people in an area that opposed him politically.

At the turn of this century, his government ordered the often-violent seizures of farms that belonged to white farmers. He and his inner circle have been under harsh Western sanctions for more than a decade for allegedly committing human rights abuses.

After winning this last election, he called on his rivals to “go hang.” Then, adding insult to insult, he said, “If they die, even dogs will not sniff at their corpses.”

Faith Zaba has served as political editor and news editor for the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper. Mugabe, she says, is like the sun around which all of Zimbabwe’s political players revolve.

She says that despite the fiery rhetoric, Mugabe has actually softened a bit in his advanced age - and may even be poised to reach out to his rivals in the Movement for Democratic Change.

“In terms of the way he’s approaching things, he’s not as hard-hitting as he was before 2009," said Zaba. "He seems to have become more accommodative. So I think in terms of his approach, I think there’s been some changes. Even the talks now, there’s talks that he’s planning to engage the MDC-T and even Professor Welshman Ncube’s party, so that he accommodates some ministers, people from those parties in his new Cabinet. That’s a different Mugabe that we’re seeing.”

But South Africa-based opposition activist Kumbirai Muchemwa says Mugabe is a fallen hero.

“I think as a person, people used to have great admiration and respect for him. But I think he has disappointed a lot of Zimbabweans in the sense that, you know, he has put politics above the welfare of ordinary Zimbabweans. … If he really cared, then he would have put a better plan in front of the Zimbabweans for the management of the economy after this election. If Robert Mugabe really cared about Zimbabweans in general, he wouldn’t insult Zimbabweans at every platform. When you say, ‘people can go and hang,’ I’ve often heard of other presidents at their inauguration or after winning an election, they try and bring people together, not to insult them. So, in my mind, he doesn’t care,” he said.

Muchemwa said he couldn’t bring himself to watch the inauguration. “I didn’t have the heart for it,” he said.
But Mugabe is unlikely to take such words to heart. Earlier this year, Mugabe told a South African filmmaker that he thought South African icon Nelson Mandela - who is almost universally loved for his policy of reconciliation - was “too good, too much of a saint.”

Few people would accuse Mugabe of the same.

  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is inaugurated in Harare, August 22, 2013.
  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe holds the bible during his inauguration in Harare, August 22, 2013.
  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace greet the crowd as they arrive for his inauguration in Harare, August 22, 2013.
  • A supporter of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attends his inauguration in Harare, August 22, 2013.
  • A supporter of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attends his inauguration in Harare, August 22, 2013.

You May Like

Video British Fighters On Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Multimedia Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

'Ebola in Town' has danceable beat, while also delivering serious message about avoiding infection More

Video New Technology Gives Surgeons Unprecedented Views of Patients’ Bodies

Technology offers real-time, interactive, medical visualization and is multi-dimensional More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid