Is Mugabe the right man for the African Union

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Last week, our colleague in Zimbabwe penned a reflective post on Mugabe’s new role as head of the African Union (AU) which in turn, kicked off an interesting discussion amongst contributors to this platform.

The conversation questioned Mugabe’s suitability for the role, international reaction to his selection, implication of his selection with respect to Africa’s relationship with the European Union and the relevance of the African Union generally.

I kicked the conversation by asking the team what they made of Mugabe’s new role and here is how the rest of the conversation

Chris: This has to be the African joke of the decade! Is it that AU lacks imagination or the leaders are living in a different planet?

Ida: It is tricky if the rules say, the presidency has to rotate, how, then could they (the African Union) bypass Zimbabwe?

Jimmy:You have western leaders almost worshiping Saudi Arabia’s filthy rich dictators. We don’t see that as a problem. In the last decade also Mugabe has done more harm than good to his country and his people.

We all know this. We also know that very few African leaders have spoken out against Mugabe so AU leadership is not surprising.

But talking about sending a “wrong signal”, to who? What signal does UK send by flying a national flag at half mast mourning a Saudi dictator that could arguable be worse than Mugabe?

Mugabe, the AU chair, has been judged way before he started, he must be given a chance and see what he will do. There’s a better judgment day after he steps down.

The leadership is rotational. Even if it wasn’t, how many African leaders are saints? Let alone world leaders? Mugabe seem worse simply because he fail out with Britain and USA. Mind you Mo Ibrahim foundation has consistently failed finding deserved winners of its African leadership award for retired presidents – it says a lot. I think folks are over reacting on this. A bit more perspective is needed.

Chris: I judge African leaders not based on Western expectations or relationship with the West but based on things back home. I think we need to look for good examples if we need any comparisons. Saudi leaders are not for us to emulate. There are much better world leaders out there and these are the people we should be looking up to.
My issue with Mugabe is that I think he has overstayed his welcome and he is not thinking of the next generation. This man could be a respected African statesman if he followed the footsteps of Nelson Mandela.  The purpose of leadership should be to produce more leaders, not more followers. Mugabe seems so much out of touch and there are so many scandals around him and his wife.  His colonial rhetoric is outdated.

Yes, I agree it is tricky if the chairmanship is rotational. I suppose the problem is that Africa seem to be suffering from lack of visionary leaders. There will be a presidential election in Nigeria in 10 days time and the two main candidates are lacklustre to be it positive but in reality both are comical.

I suppose we need the question what AU ought to be all about? Are they thinking about the image of the continent and the life of ordinary people? What is their vision?

Nqaba: When we look at Mugabe, the tragic thing is that we tend to limit it to his war, real or imagined, with the west, but never about his own country. While Mugabe has won elections it is no doubt that he has sunk Zimbabwe into abyss.

This is usually blamed on sanctions, but we conveniently ignore corruption and misrule that have been part of his rule since 1980.

His election sends a wrong signal on many fronts, he unilaterally pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth and threatened to pull out of SADC when he was admonished by his peers. Africa is moving towards integration but electing a leader who is the exact antithesis of that.

While Africa is advocating for term limits, we have a President who has held onto power for 35 years and this is very ironic.

The West has its own selfish interests in celebrating the Saudi king, just like the west looked aside when Mugabe’s government killed 20,000 people after independence. They looked aside because it was convenient during the Cold War because they didn’t want Soviet influence in Zimbabwe and other post – colonial states.

Mark : Bodies like the commonwealth are a colonial relic that we really shouldn’t be a part of. What does it mean really the word common wealth? Whose wealth?? The British Queen’s ?

Mugabe is a despot just like all the other leaders that call their countries democracies. Obama has overseen the destruction of Libya, Syria and still supports the Israelis and Saudi family. Why are we so quick to admonish our own?

The US is still not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) but funds it. Let the implication of that sink in for a bit.

Mugabe has done more for his country by kicking out the White farmers and being anti west than our leaders here (in Kenya) who lap up everything the west sends our way. Yes there is hyper inflation, yes the quality of life is probably worse but the country should survive without ceding to the West’s way of doing things.

Chris : It’s really funny to hear someone say they can cope with hyperinflation, low quality of life etc as long as the white farmers are kicked out and Mugabe appears to stand up against the west. Just how does that sound?  Mind you, pride is not edible! That’s precisely the reason the west swallow their pride when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

By the way, Nigeria happily welcomed the white farmers kicked out of Zimbabwe. They seem to be doing well and were allocated land for their trade.

Nqaba : Commonwealth maybe a colonial relic, but the idea of pulling out should be a collective one rather than an individual’s one. Mugabe looks a hero for his anti-western rhetoric, but he is not my hero.

I am not a big fan of the west, but that doesn’t mean Mugabe is right. Yes we had to do land reform, but we could have done it in a more structured manner that didn’t involve killing.

Darren :As one in the Diaspora, I have had great hope for the AU and how it might operate out of ubuntu to create an African reality less driven by the West or its colonial past. Of course, this is no easy task under the best of conditions.

I read the news of Mugabe’s appointment with a bit of amusement and a bit of dismay. Must about his record lays waste to the idea that age brings wisdom. It seems age has simply brought more cynicism and bitterness. His reputation is based on his resistance to the West. His rhetoric has not appeared to benefit Zimbabwe in any good way that has been lasting. His vision has been no vision and his people perish. I see the same dynamic with Museveni and Uganda.

One of the problems with being in the protestant position is that one can become so invested in that position to the exclusion of all else. Power is bound up in the resistance and one’s own progress suffers because that progress is seen as being less committed to the struggle.

Africans are known as a people who take the materials at hand and re-form them to meet whatever needs they have quite apart from the origin of that material. This assumes the agency and autonomy of the craftsperson. We have a similar conversation in the United States among Black scholars and about Black progress. My students and I talked about this in a recent class.

It seems to me that the AU will only thrive if the voice of the folk, the grassroots, can be heard in the voices of the leadership of the AU. Otherwise, the status quo persists and atrophy continues as the norm. This is my concern with Mugabe or Museveni or even a Kagame.

Ida: The AU is a topic we return to time and time again with the question – What purpose does it serve? For the European Union, it is convenient as a means of having one single African body to negotiate with, for the man on the street in any given African country or the Diaspora for that matter, the relevance of the AU has not been properly articulated, for African leaders, as far as I can work out, it has been a source of infighting.

I recall meeting Gaddafi shortly after the Arab Spring had kicked off in Tunisia. He had a big plan to break away from the AU because his dream of a United States of Africa had been rejected by other leaders. His grand plan was  to form his own African Union made up of the African Diaspora.

Darren : It’s interesting to think of the EU which is showing its strains and tensions. Yet, there is something about the concept of  whiteness and colonialism as a unifying idea embodied in the EU.

As a Black child (continuing to now as a middle aged man) in the US, I was intrigued by ideas of Black consciousness and Pan-Africanism and the unity in diversity of Africa and the Diaspora. I still have hope that the AU will draw from such a vision as the EU draws from and has a certain unity of visions.

During my last trip to Uganda, I heard several people speak glowingly of Gaddafi’s vision for a unified and prospering Africa. While acknowledging his warts, they spoke with much disdain about how the West used tensions and other rhetorical strategies to distort and undermine the man and his vision. I was reminded of similar strategies in the U.S. to undermine Black power efforts. Until the lion can tell its story clearly.

The issues raised in this exchange are complex and interesting and reasoning for posting this conversation here is to open up the discussion to a wider audience. So do take a moment to tell us what you think

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