Zimbabwe’s veteran leader Robert Mugabe seeks a fresh five-year mandate in today’s elections. Mugabe held campaign rallies in almost all the country’s 10 provinces to drum up support for himself and his party, which has been in power since independence from the British in 1980.
But this is not the same old campaign. At 89, Mugabe knows it is probably his last and he has modeled his appeal to voters on his legacy and contributions in Zimbabwe’s fight for independence.
Critics say the speeches essentially amount to historical lessons as his central message focuses on the past, about his contribution to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle against white minority rule.
For Mugabe, it is a farewell he is bidding to his countrymen and the continent and an attempt to leave a lasting impression as an iconic revolutionary in Africa. Despite the hostile relations between the west and Mugabe, his stature in the African political landscape is huge and has inspired many those countries whose economies and land are still in the hands of the former colonizers.
Besides helping Zimbabwe gain independence in the first place, Mugabe spearheaded a land reform program in 2000, taking away land from white commercial farmers and redistributing it to the black Zimbabweans. The central theme during that exercise was that total independence can only be achieved through economic independence.
This electoral campaign dwells on that theme once again, positioning Mugabe as a man against the world, as a man who has defeated whites, as a man who managed to give his people land, as a leader who stood up to the US and Britain.
Even after these countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, he has been undeterred. For the people of Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s policies are unpopular and have only helped Zimbabwe’s economy plunge. His tenure has also been characterized by iron-rule and suppression of human rights. Though Zimbabweans are hopeful that election results will not be in favor of Mugabe, they place little credibility in the election results amid reports of rigging. By now, they know: It’s all in the hands of Mugabe anyway.