Robert Mugabe’s dubious legacy, will Africa learn?

Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean independence leader, ex-President, turned authoritarian leader, has died aged 95. He was born February 21, 1924, in what was then Rhodesia – a British colony, run by its white minority. In 1964 he was imprisoned for more than a decade without trial. After a brief independence movement struggle, political agreements to end the crisis resulted in the newly independent Republic of Zimbabwe. With Mugabe’s high profile in the independence movement, Mugabe secured an overwhelming victory in the republic’s first election in 1980.

Robert Mugabe embodied Africa’s struggle against colonialism. But over his decades in power, Mugabe assumed the reputation of a “strongman” leader – a dictator.┬áIn 2000, he seized land from white owners, and in 2008, used violent militias to silence his political opponents. He famously declared that only God could remove him from office.

But in 2017, amid concerns that he was grooming his wife as his successor, the army turned against the president and forced him to step down. President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumed power, though little has changed in Zimbabwe since then. Mugabe died bitter, lonely, and humiliated – though many still celebrate him as a liberator.

Zimbabwe GDP per Capita

Like many countries in Africa, independence was achieved, but at what cost? In the decades after independence life in Zimbabwe stagnated and became dubious, while the rest of the world continued to advance. Mugabe often blamed the West for his shortfalls – often blaming the “white man.” But when comparing the per capita GDP of Zimbabwe to one of its peers, Kenya (who has done significantly better), it is hard to imagine that the West somehow favored one African country over the other (see inset chart).

Mugabe simply could not understand how to govern a country. Policies that were corrupt, anti-merit based, and racial – merely served to divide any sensibility in terms of economic development. This earned Zimbabwe as one of the world’s most miserable countries to live in for 2019 – second only to Venezuela (see inset chart). People voted with their feet. Many Zimbabweans fled to South Africa for a better life – a decision perhaps interesting today, but may have its challenges tomorrow.

The population of Africa is currently projected to quadruple in just 90 years – from its current 1.2 billion. The single most significant demographic situation for the world, since many Western developed country populations are in decline. News Forecasters believes a cultural change in Africa must occur, that Africans will need to resolve – if not, life will get difficult for Africa and for the rest of the world (predominately the developed world), as they will receive the brunt of immigration fleeing any potential problems in Africa.

There are many in Africa that understand this, unfortunately not enough, and there are worrying signs there is even some backtracking – e.g. South Africa who are starting to go down the same path as Zimbabwe. Africa is an amazing place, full of culture, art, philosophy, and potentially many new innovative ideas that they could bring to the rest of the world. Africa needs to understand that the riches of Africa is not in the soil, rather in the minds of the African people. Sure, Africa is resource-rich. But so are many other parts of the world. Besides, new products are not about the material in them, rather the minds that created them.

Africa is the laggard on the world stage. It does not have to be this way. So what is the cultural change needed in Africa? The change is from inward self-pride to the outward seeking of knowledge. So many times we hear from Africans, “We are Africans, we will do it the African way.” Africa simply put, is too proud to accept knowledge and engagement from the outside. Instead, its leaders engage in corruption with the West or reject them out of hand (the Mugabe approach). Neither is a good strategy.

China is a reasonable example. They understood they were behind the rest of the world – they humbly sought engagement, education, and now are significant players on the world stage. Africa needs to follow this model, though there are issues with the Chinese development model too – another subject to be addressed later. The past sins of colonization and slavery continue to be a roadblock to cultural change – whose penality was not solely suffered by Africa.

This is not to say that there are not many positive things going on in Africa – it is a region in growth mode and has many opportunities. There are many places in Africa the are quite modern. However, looking at an average African GDP growth rate of around 3 to 4% over the past few decades it is sub-par for a region in growth mode. The African per capita GDP has lifted many out of poverty, but it is far too slow to keep pace with the rest of the world.

News Forecasters asks, how likely can Africa learn to engage appropriately with the rest of the world – the developed world? Can Africa learn the lessons of Robert Mugabe’s failures? The jury is still out, however from what we can see today, it does not look good. News Forecasters must say that Africa will continue to lag the world – regional conflict, Islamification (yet another subject for another time), corruption and endless immigration issues will haunt us all. But we would be happy to be proven wrong.

A video presentation of this subject:

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