Lessons for Harare

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The photo of our prime minister (non-elected for the post) standing side by side with Robert Mugabe, the longest serving and arguably the most hated African despot, will remain memorable. Our national photo album is now complete. What a great heritage to bequeath to the future generations! The only thing missing in the photo is another figure grinning for the cameras: the minister of the yet-to-be-created Mentorship Ministry, who, though not quite as old as Mugabe, is doing rather well holding on to power too.

If that photo was not enough to convey to the whole world how little we care about democracy and human rights, Minister of Tourism Anil Gayan, who missed yet another opportunity to keep his mouth shut, added another layer: “Robert Mugabe is… one of the greatest leaders of the African continent!” Wow! Nothing less. The guy who ruined his country, starved his people, gagged the press, had members of the opposition tortured and killed, persecuted homosexuals and has been hanging on to power for nearly four decades! As clean as new!

But perhaps Mugabe, fast asleep at the banquet, next to our tsetse man – nicknamed ‘the sleeping Chihuahua’ by one of his former colleagues – did not feel totally out of place here. He must know that the highest levels of state and government are now open to the most dubious characters who possibly impoverished their people for personal gain. 

If a much debated Álvaro Sobrinho finds his way to the State House, the highest office in the country – now shorn of its prestige and stature – and allegedly showers leaders and politicians with obscenely expensive gifts, using money coming from a country where the large majority of the population is living on less than $2 a day, why would Mugabe not be welcome? If the president of a country like Mauritius can sit on the board of an organisation, committing a whole country to supporting individuals against whom there are serious allegations, what’s wrong with inviting despots? If Sobrinho can go straight from the airport to visit our deputy prime minister, Ivan Collendavelloo, the one who has been lowering our national IQ every time he has opened his mouth to defend money coming from a country where few laws are applied, why should we be ashamed of having Mugabe on our shores? 

Come to think of it, Mugabe may even have learnt a lesson or two during his stay here. Meeting our new prime minister and his father – minister without a ministry – he will have come to know that there is no point in rigging elections, terrorising opponents and having the whole of the international community on your back forever. It is much simpler to stand as a candidate, have people vote for you, win the election on a hefty manifesto which is not exactly what you intend to implement once in power, then hand over the reins of the country to your son! How difficult is that? Now, naturally, instead of leaving the government once you have blessed your son with the gift of a whole country, you create a position for yourself and sit with him in cabinet so that the whole country is controlled by the same family. Remember that you don’t need to give any explanation whatsoever. If people are not happy, let them bark. That is the only right they have in a democracy. 

Isn’t that a valuable lesson in democracy, ethics and good governance? Even Mugabe, who is no greenhorn when it comes the art of perverting democracy, will surely go away with some very valuable lessons as a parting gift. Don’t they say, “A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience”? 

No need to thank us, Mr. Mugabe. You can return the favour by sending some very reputable businessmen from your country to invest some very clean money in ours. The State House will quickly open for them while some of our ministers will be prompt to defend them. And our oh how independent institutions will do what they do best: look at which side their bread is buttered on! Another lesson which will stand you in good stead.

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