Zimbabwe’s president Comrade Robert suffered much political heartbreak in 2011, and spent most of the year in mourning. Many times Mugabe came across like he had finally flipped.
Wrong. The man has been working on a grand plan.
When Laurent Gbagbo lost elections to Allassane Outtara in Ivory Coast last year and refused to hand over, it seemed like the whole world turned against him. Even the West African states united to denounce him.
That was when Mugabe made his move. It was reported he had secretly deployed troops to Ivory Coast to protect Gbagbo. It didn’t last more than a year. Rebels – helped by the French and UN – routed Gbagbo and scooped him disgracefully from the basement of the State House in Abidjan where he was hiding.
Next was Libya’s dictator for 42-years, Muammar Gaddafi. Though he too was cornered – in a drainage pipe though – he wasn’t as lucky as Gbagbo. Rebels slaughtered him in a bout of revolutionary fervour gone amok.
“Muammar Gaddafi won elections and was a true leader. It is foreigners who toppled him, not Libyans. Gaddafi died fighting. He is a true African hero”, said retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a Zanu-PF member of parliament said in tribute.
When another dictator, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il died on December 17, Mugabe’s spokesmen were once again equally effusive. “[Kim Jong Il] was a lovely man and a great friend”, said a party man.
On December 21, Mugabe was the only African leader to attend the inauguration of DR Congo president Joseph Kabila. Kabila was re-elected in a highly controversial election that his rivals rejected as rigged. The international community has also “expressed” concern.
Mugabe is devilishly contrarian, partly because he knows better than anyone else what it means to be an 87-year-old despot who has inflicted a lot of suffering on his once happy and prosperous nations over the last 10 years.
Mugabe is unwell, and as the club of old-school African dictators rapidly diminishes, like many of us do (even when we are half Comrade Bob’s age), he is probably worried about who will come to his funeral.
Many of the democratic and half-democratic – indeed even authoritarian leaders – in Africa are unlikely to show up to see him off.
Unlike his experience in Kinshasa at the Kabila inauguration when he was the sole foreign president in attendance, by standing by Africa’s and the world’s strongmen when the world seemed to have abandoned them, Mugabe has played the game so his funeral will not be lonely.
From Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, through to North Korea, and Africa’s veteran autocrats, Mugabe has ensured that the Big Men will either show up personally, or dispatch substantial delegations to see him on his last journey.
Mugabe deserves it, because he saw an opportunity that very many leaders missed. He realised that the Third World’s dictators lacked a patron. And he offered himself for the job.
© Charles Onyango-Obbo / twitter@cobbo3