Why diamonds can't be Robert Mugabe's best friend
'No one should doubt our resolve to sell our diamonds,' Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said July 12. Guest blogger G. Pascal Zachary argues why South Africa should engineer the dictator's exit.
Robert Mugabe, the aged head of what passes for Zimbabwe’s government, is sounding like a girl on the verge of a quickie marriage: diamonds are now his best friend, or at least best hope of clinging to power in Harare, one of Africa’s once–great capitals.Skip to next paragraph
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I have neither been to Zimbabwe, nor met Mugabe; I have been in the wrong place, at the wrong time, perhaps since Zimbabwe is one of the gems of Africa and Mugabe one of the classic spoiled characters of the region.
Once a beacon for transformation in Africa, Zimbabwe is today is a shadow of its former self, the victim of a political disease that’s not unique to Africa but perhaps expresses itself most destructively in this region: and that is the disease of the once great leader – a true folk hero in Mugabe’s case – permitting himself to degenerate first into a tyrant and then into the parody of a tyrant, a kind of comic misguided rogue who fails to see the walls tumbling down around him because he retains a posse of devote, devious henchmen.
Mugabe is not alone in Africa in falling prey to the delusions of the past, of holding on too long to a vacant power. Museveni in Uganda seems to have acquired the Mugabe virus, though he remains in the early stages of the disease. Wade of Senegal, once a modest reformer, clearly has a bad case of Mugabe-itis. Omar Bongo caught it and, forgivingly, died before his people suffered too grievously. Mubarak of Egypt is another victim. The disease is not without cures, however. Mandela avoided it. So did Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. And Mo Ibrahim, the Anglo-Sudanese tycoon, believes he has created a workable prophylactic: offering to pay African presidents to peacefully quit their offices.
In Mugabe of course, the disease of holding on to power has wreaked destruction on a scale unimaginable to Zimbabweans who knew their country a mere 20 years ago to be both the agricultural breadbasket of southern Africa and a spawning ground for great talents, both white and black. True, the demon of racial oppression was never expunged from Zimbabwe, only chased away to return in a new, more insidious form. Mugabe’s use of race as a tool of dictatorship is well known. How he manages to hang on to power is less understood, for in many ways, for more than Bashir of Sudan or Eyadama of Togo, Mugabe is the baddest of the bat cats on African soil.
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