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DICTATORS are not born, but created by “we the people” due to political, economic and social conditions obtaining in a country. In dire economic and political situations, “we the people” are desperate for quick solutions to our problems to the extent that we fail to see the writing on the wall. The French, Germans, Italians and Spaniards — the list is endless — did not see it coming because they were mired in debilitating political and economic crises. Dictators emerge from such environments as “we the people” expect a Messiah to usher us into a land flowing with milk and honey.
Robert Mugabe (RGM), the late former President of Zimbabwe was not born a dictator. Although some may argue that as he was growing up in Zvimba, Mugabe displayed a dictatorial disposition. Zanu PF, as a party, and “we the people” of Zimbabwe significantly contributed to shape and mold RGM into one of Africa’s notorious and infamous dictators. Slogans such as Pamberi navaMugabe; VaMugabe Chete; and VaMugabe ndibaba etc no doubt played a significant role in shaping Mugabe’s political character. As “we the people” focused our attention on ending white supremacy and the destruction of colonial structures and institutions, we blindly and uncritically eulogised Mugabe. Roads, airports, schools, children, etc were named after him.
The Mugabe dictatorship did show us that dictators love power (and do anything and everything to get it or preserve it); surround themselves with sycophants and homeboys and homegirls; are uncomfortable with criticism, and eliminate their opponents, etc. Nelson “Cobra” Chamisa (NC) took over the MDC-T presidency in controversial and dramatic circumstances. With the assistance of the MDC-T’s national executive council (NEC), he literally and forcefully grabbed the presidency of the party — the Zimbabwean version of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup Brumaire.
His supporters within the NEC used the MDC-T constitution to justify Chamisa’s ascendancy to the coveted MDC presidency. The opposition party’s NC could not have pulled this great feat without the support of “we the people”.
As an individual, Chamisa demonstrated his love for power in that he could not even wait to bury Morgan Richard Tsvangirai (MRT) the very same person who had handpicked him as one of the MDC-T vice-presidents after dismally losing the secretary-general contest to Douglas Mwonzora (DM).
Like Mugabe, Chamisa interfered in the MDC congress to make sure his surrogates were elected to key positions in the party. He has effectively surrounded himself with praise singers (whose political careers depend upon him eg Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube; MaKhumalo, etc) and homeboys and homegirls from Masvingo. The outcry and rightly so from Mthwakazi is that NC has imposed a Shona leadership in the region.
Furthermore, like all other dictators, Chamisa is uncomfortable with criticism and dissenting voices. DM can testify to this. He has become a target of a vicious campaign to discredit and malign him and ultimately to push him out of the party. Chamisa has not forgotten his loss to DM at the 2014 congress and views him as the greatest threat to his presidency.
It reminds us of the Mugabe-Sithole leadership controversy in Zanu that emanated from the first Zanu congress in Gweru. The worrisome and troubling reality is that NC is an admirer of RGM as demonstrated by his statements after the demise of our former dear leader.
“We the people” have not learned anything from the Mugabe dictatorship. The same slogans we did for RGM are being chanted for Chamisa — Chamisa Chete Chete.
The youth and their leadership are the purveyors of the Chamisa Chete Chete mantra. In their desperation, the youth have become the running dogs of a promising NC dictatorship as MDC president. The youth are repeating the same mistake they did with RGM.
In the heydays of the Mugabe dictatorship the youth were its vociferous defenders. “We the people” need a strong opposition party, but cannot afford to create yet another dictator after 37 years of Mugabe iron fist rule. “We the people” should guard against the glorification of our leaders, but instead, force them to build strong institutions that prevent the emergence of dictators.
The locus of authority (the centre of power as the disgraced former professor in Mugabe’s Cabinet used to call it) cannot be vested in one man. Zimbabwe as a republic must generate virtuous men and women to lead our nation to greatness.
l Lovemore Sibanda PhD is assistant professor of History/Social Studies College of Education, Teacher Education and Administration Department at the University of North Texas, United States