I lived in Zimbabwe for two years in the late 1980’s. The country was beautiful, functional and a little of the euphoria of independence was in the air. Only there was also a kind of malaise beginning like a cloud bank rolling in to eventually block out the sun.
People knew that something wasn’t quite right. There was unrest in Matabeleland, not a huge amount of produce in the shops beyond the basics, and a vibrant black market in currency and consumer goods. Locals without external funds had a long wait to buy a new car.
Thirty years have passed and a lot has happened. Unrest, droughts, food shortages, AIDS, hyperinflation that led to the dropping of the Zimbabwean dollar as official currency, involvement in regional war, degrading infrastructure, unemployment and poverty. Today estimates are that over 70% of Zimbabweans now live in chronic poverty
Throughout this time Robert Mugabe has presided over this increasing chaos at the expense of his people, initially as Prime Minister and as President since 1987, using his not inconsiderable political talent for the sole purpose of staying in power. He is 93 years old.
Mugabe is a classic example of African leaders who were first heroes in the struggles for independence, then became despots and autocrats who you challenge at your peril. He has done enough personal damage to have several honorary degrees revoked (Universities really don’t do this), sanctions on his international travel, and calls for him to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Nelson Mandela once referred to Mugabe as ‘a politician who despises the very people who put him in power’.
He is a terrible individual on so many levels, a product of his times that were dictatorial and elitist on both sides of the battle but also an evil individual. His country has collapsed into poverty on his watch with not even a glimmer of recovery on the horizon.
Enter the World Health Organisation.
This week they decided to make Robert Mugabe a ‘goodwill ambassador’.
Words fail me.
The good people of Zimbabwe deserve so much more.