Zimbabwe At 41 Years Is Not Yet Uhuru

Mr. and Mrs. Mugabe
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Robert Mugabe and his first wife Sally during a state visit to the U.S. in 1983 when Zimbabwe was a powerhouse. This was way before the punitive sanctions following land-reform. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. 

[Aluta Continua!]

In the capital Harare and elsewhere in the Republic of Zimbabwe the gallant and patriotic people of Zimbabwe will this week mark the 41 year anniversary of independence achieved on April 18, 1980 after a bitter, costly and protracted liberation war waged against a racist minority regime led by a hardcore white racist called Ian Smith. There is not much to celebrate in contemporary Zimbabwe, despite high hopes and great expectations most people had in that beautiful and rich country.

Many foreign dignitaries attended Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in 1980. Queen Elizabeth II was represented by Prince Charles. Heads of State or Government in attendance included, President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, President Seretse Khama of Botswana, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser of Australia.

The legendary Jamaican musician, Bob Marley, was present and performed one of his classic reggae songs called “Zimbabwe” to the delight of Zimbabweans and their guests. The optimism and euphoria of 1980 gave the impression that the stage was set for a bright and prosperous future, but with the benefit of hindsight it is not yet Uhuru for the vast majority of Zimbabweans! On this auspicious day, I convey fraternal greetings to the long-suffering wananchi—ordinary citizens—of Zimbabwe and urge them to keep hope alive! Like Uganda, South Sudan and many African countries, Zimbabwe deserves a lot better than a corrupt, decadent, incompetent and unpatriotic government.

My association with the heroic struggle of the people of Zimbabwe started in 1968 when, as an undergraduate student at the University of East Africa, I participated in a peaceful demonstration against the illegal Smith regime. We marched from Campus via Kampala Road to Parliament and back to Makerere University.

Seven years later in 1975, as First Secretary and Charge d’Affaires a.i. of Uganda to the United Nations, I met the two Co-Presidents of ZANU/PF who were leaders of the struggle for self-determination and independence, the burly and jolly Joshua Nkomo and the austere and eloquent Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

The two freedom fighters were in New York to address a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the grave and rapidly deteriorating situation in Rhodesia now Zimbabwe. Uganda was Chairman of the OAU in 1975 which explains why the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations was closely involved with the visit of Nkomo and Comrade Mugabe.

Mugabe left a positive impression with most member states of the UN and when he became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, we all believed that the newly independent country was in good and steady hands. That impression was confirmed, for me, when I visited Zimbabwe for the first time in 1986 to attend a summit conference of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) at Harare. President Mugabe was elected Chairman of NAM and he performed his responsibilities very well.

In 1991 President Mugabe hosted the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Harare. Like the 1986 NAM summit, CHOGM 1991 was successful. Unfortunately things started to fall apart thereafter. 

In 2002 the European Union (EU) and the US imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe with disastrous economic and social consequences and effects on the people of Zimbabwe for two decades. In 2005, in my capacity as Chairman of the ACP committee on sanctions based in Brussels, I made every effort to persuade the EU to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, but our efforts did not succeed. The once vibrant economy of Zimbabwe has more or less collapsed while the once strong Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned in April 2009. Zimbabwe is today among a few countries in the world with no national currency.

The blame for the tragedy of Zimbabwe falls squarely on Comrade Robert Mugabe who got drunk with power, fused ZANU with the State and treated Zimbabwe like his personal and private fiefdom. He often bragged publicly and shamelessly that, “Zimbabwe is mine.” 

It is wrong and unacceptable. The people of Zimbabwe deserve better. Aluta continua! Victory is certain.

Ambassador Harold Acemah is a political scientist and a retired career diplomat based at Arua City, Uganda.

Note: Aluta Continua! is a new column.

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