Fidel Castro called President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, “an intelligent, tenacious and firm leader: He should have been using a walker rather than a cane by the time he arrived at the podium to vent his modicum of rage directed mainly at the US president Donald Trump.
The world’s oldest president was at his rawest and took no prisoners on UN day last weekend. It was literally the biblical David and Goliath flexing their muscles; the other towards a wayward North Korea and our ‘hero’ towards the person of Donald Trump. What a glittering way to close one’s presidential curtain, what a way to spoil for a war even knowing very well that you are without proper ammunition at hand to repel any threats.
Southern Africa’s last remaining ‘Statesman’ has been a visitor to the UN podium for more than 37 years and almost all this time, he has been known to vent frustrations at mostly imaginary enemies. The British have been subjected to this type of vitriol and no longer listen to him anymore. The UN is the custodian of the freedom charter and allowing freedom of speech is one of its declared interests. That is why, no matter which leader steps up the podium and begins to prattle as they wish, they are never restrained. Fidel Castro broke all speaking records by any Member state by taking to the stage and speaking for almost a day during his formative years.
Mugabe, in exercising his freedom to be heard might have ruffled a few feathers and at the same time received a semblance of applause from likeminded participants who felt the United States was acting like the father figure to the world. However, freedoms can be defined mostly according to territorial lexicography.
Far from being “sacred”, as some have claimed, freedom of speech is always contingent. All societies draw lines that are ill-defined, constantly shifting and continually debated, about what constitutes acceptable standards of public discourse when it comes to cultural, racial and religious sensitivities. Mugabe’s perceived personal attack on Goliath, who in this narrative is Trump might have won him more enemies than friends. Much as Trump touts himself as the Whiteman’s last citadel of hope and protection from the hostile others, Mugabe feels the same for the continent of Africa. With Madiba out of the question, this has been the ripe opportunity for Mugabe to shield the sons and daughters of Africa from the imperialists which he successfully squashed in his native Zimbabwe. It might be farcical coming from both extremes, but for me, not only is the morality bankrupt, but the logic is warped.
Trump believes the whiteman is now living in a state of terror and more so after the 9/11 attacks there is escalating “hate crime”, targeted at the Americans. Maya Angelou once commented on such fears by saying: “Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America, but black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.”
A radio station played a part of Mugabe’s UN speech and both the presenter of the morning show and his co hosts including the producer said Mugabe stood for the rest of Africa. The only thing they were worried about was his constant stumbling and advised that it was time that the nonagenarian resorted to a cane. I disagree; he should be on a walker. But if his body was failing, his mind was in rude health. He’s “as fine as wine in the summertime.”
The rocket man has rattled Donald Trump. America, many times is known to violate its own enactments, laws and international treaties in pursuit of revenge and at whatever costs. “There wasn’t a treaty that couldn’t be violated, a principle waived or a definition parsed in the defence of American power and pursuit of popular revenge,” said writer Garry Younge. “To invoke the constitution, the Geneva Convention or democratic oversight was evidence that you were out of your depth in the new reality. Laws were for the weak; for the powerful there was force. This was not just the mood of a moment; it has been policy for more than a decade.” That is why Trump is rallying all and sundry to his corner to deal with the Rocketman from North Korean.
Observers have been quirky with their commentaries. “The logic driving this state of affairs is not only self-fulfilling, it’s self-perpetuating. The more they act with impunity the more abuses are committed, the more they have to cover up and the more secrecy they need. So long as it happened abroad, the consequences for the American polity were limited. Abu Ghraib and drone attacks cost precious few votes or senior careers. But it was only a matter of time before these ramifications started making themselves felt at home. Foreign policy doesn’t take place in a vacuum; it’s co-ordinated by and incorporated into the same system that elaborates domestic policy. Once you have told operatives to take their gloves off and fight dirty on the road they don’t just start playing by Queensbury rules at home.”
For many years America has found reason to pounce on unsuspecting nations on flimsy accusations. Weapons of Mass Destruction and Dictatorship have largely been advanced as reasons to exterminate rogue presidents. Iraq and others come to the fore. However, Vladimir Putin of Russia has been appearing cautious in advising the antagonists to surge out to war, fearing for the total annihilation of other innocent people elsewhere not only in the United States of America. “Once the state has deliberately created space for power to be exercised without accountability those who occupy that space will protect it against enemies domestic and foreign. When your war is global and unending it inevitably comes home and keeps going. The monster the US has unleashed on the rest of the world is steadily devouring its own,” observed one American journalist.
This is not new. The origins of the Watergate scandal, in which President Richard Nixon bugged his electoral opponents, lies in Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia; McCarthyism had its roots in the cold war.
Mugabe was the one who it was he who donned the mantles of “hope” and “change”. Mugabe’s ascent to power had meaning. It’s his presence in power that lacks purpose. The gap between rich and poor and black and white has grown. As we speak, the country is having basic commodity shortages. There are long queues at petrol stations and cooking oil is in short supply or not available at all. Meanwhile, he has the audacity to bus record seventy dignitaries, to a UN conference in New York. Its true there’s a limit to what a president can do about much of this and that Zanu PF intransigence has not helped the above issues at all.
“If there was a plot, he’s lost it. If there was a point, few can remember it. If he had a big idea, he shrank it. If there’s a moral compass powerful enough to guide such contradictions to more consistent waters, it is in urgent need of being reset,” wrote Younge some time ago.
All in all, there’s precious little that Mugabe has done that any of his primary opponents would not have done. “If you’re going to be president, then I guess you obviously want to be in the history books,” said Susan Aylward, a frustrated Obama supporter in Akron, Ohio, shortly before the last election. “So, what does he want to be in the history books for? I don’t quite know the answer to that yet.” Sadly, it seems, neither does he. The same applies to the Davids and Goliaths of today.
For both men at the centre of the UN commentary box, I would rather you take heed of a comment from Obama. As we speak, trump is embroiled in a tiff with the sporting fraternity over a trivial matter. He cannot stomach someone standing up to his egos whether real or imagined. The same about father Africa, whose police are quick to shackle one opposing voice no matter what time of day or where that can be, be it a church service or otherwise. Obama during his time as president told the crowd at Nelson Mandela’s funeral: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
John Churu is a Journalist and Social Commentator