By Charles Aaron-Simon
Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, took office last January as the 13th Chairperson of the African Union. It was an expression of the collective desire to honor him and his political party, ZANU-PF, for political accomplishments that stand as operational guides of political possibilities for African peoples and their leaders.
The selection is grounded in the indigenous culture of the continent with its universal respect for elders, and the need on the part of delegates to honor one of that continent’s last remaining nationalist freedom fighters, who sacrificed his life for the political emancipation of the continent from the yoke of Western colonialism.
The current crop of political leaders in the African Union were but children when Mugabe commanded the world stage in negotiations with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to free Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) from white-settler colonial rule in the mid-1970’s.
They remember his support of the African National Congress of South Africa and South West African Peoples Organization of Namibia in their struggles against the apartheid regime of South Africa. They remember Zimbabwe paid a heavy price for that support as part of the frontline states surrounding South Africa during this era. Mugabe, in three words, is a Hero.
The fact that Mugabe has worn down the coterie of Western intelligence and espionage agencies, which for several years sought to overthrow his government, is a source of wonderment if not admiration for some delegates. How did he manage this on a continent littered with the legacy of governments overthrown for much less than what Mugabe did?
Mugabe’s government has implemented economic policies of much influence on younger leaders in Africa: his African indigenization policies (foreign investors in Zimbabwe must employ Africans and provide them with ownership stakes); his land redistribution initiatives, which transfer ownership of land confiscated from white settler communities and granted to African peasants; making Zimbabwe one of the most literate countries, second only to Tunisia.
To cap it off, he has lived to witness the discovery of one the world’s largest deposits of diamonds, which has attracted the attention of Israel, U.S., EU, U.K., Belgium, France, Australia and Canada – countries lying in wait for his removal from office either through natural or unnatural causes.
Mugabe’s pro-people policy initiatives are those many modern African leaders would like to emulate; initiatives that fly in the face of the IMF’s and World Bank’s neo-liberal, anti-people economic policies. For that affront, these two world financial institutions are looking to bring him down; Mugabe simply cannot be allowed to stand as an example for the rest of Africa.
New African leaders now understand that powerful global financial forces will do all they can to subvert or induce regime change if they follow Mugabe’s example. These global financial institutions do not like policies that seek to improve the lot of peasants, the poor – the majority of the population.
African leaders realize it takes a lion’s courage to face down these powerful Western forces and say yes to pro-people policies. Mugabe possesses that courage and has exercised it on behalf of Zimbabwe’s people. Respect!
By naming Mugabe as the next chairman, the African Union is thanking him for supporting political activists fleeing political violence; for making Zimbabwe’s embassies their legal salvation, providing food, refugee papers and free flights to Zimbabwe to rebuild their lives, to continue their education (at the University of Zimbabwe) and their political struggles.
While Mugabe’s tenure as leader of Zimbabwe is not perfect, they can look at his record and use his actions as guides for the future: eg, one-party rule or multi-party competitive elections?; Indigenization or local free market for foreign investment?; China or the West or China and the West?; tribalism or national unity?; IMF and World Bank or to seek out other sources of capital that permit independent national economic development?
The post of African Union chairman is as much a vote of thanks for services rendered in the name of the African revolution as it is a continental eulogy-in-the-making as Africa prepares to release one of its most blessed sons, at the age of 91, of his earthly commitments.
He has served; it is now time those blessed by his efforts to grant him this final accolade.