HARARE - Shunned by western nations and driven into a corner under sanctions he claimed were bleeding the economy, the late former Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, touted China as a new “all weather friend” during his reign and sought to ride on the country’s high literacy rate and natural resources to prop up the economy.
Mugabe died at the age of 65 in Singapore early Friday. At Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Mugabe laid the foundation for a peaceful transition, highlighting in 1980 that it was “now time to beat our swords into ploughshares, so we can attend to the problems of developing our economy” and our society.
He often touted China as an economic savior for Zimbabwe and under this the Chinese became significant players in Zimbabwe’s economy. This was mainly because western nations had started to shun Zimbabwe over alleged human rights violations and also over the taking away of land from white farmers.
During an official visit to Zimbabwe in 2015, Xi Jinping, the Chinese President was described by Mugabe as a “true and dear friend to the people of Zimbabwe”. Mugabe also said: “The people of Zimbabwe are overjoyed to host (the Chinese leader). This visit gives a guide to Chinese investors that Zimbabwe is a safe destination for their investments.”
Turning to the Chinese was one of Mugabe’s masterpieces in dealing with the economy after western investors started to pull out of Zimbabwe. A highly skilled populace was also another pillar that Mugabe leaned on and on Friday, after confirmation of the death of Mugabe, Lovemore Madhuku, a University of Zimbabwe law professor, said he had benefited from the former Zimbabwean leader’s policy to have more Zimbabweans educated.
“My parents are poor peasants in Chipinge. They could not have afforded to pay for my university education. Under the leadership of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the Government of an independent Zimbabwe paid for my university education,” said Madhuku, writing on Twitter. “My generation benefited from that vision.”
But it in was mining and agriculture that Mugabe sought to ring in empowerment of the country’s populace. Mugabe pushed for mineral beneficiation in mining to help create jobs and to have the country realise even more value.
Diamond mining in Zimbabwe has been dogged by allegations that as much as US$15 billion was looted but Mugabe corrected this position, saying during an interview to mark his 92nd birthday: “We have not received much from the diamond industry at all. I don’t think we have exceeded US$2 billion, yet we think more than US$15 billion has been earned.”
Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa has said there is no going back on the land reform program which was mooted under Mugabe in 2000. This has given rise to young entrepreneurs who are flourishing in agriculture and embracing technology as marketing platforms.
But if Mugabe was an enigma to his opponents and those who opposed his economic policies, he also had a lighter version to him. And seeing that he was the target of fake death news, he retorted in 2012: “I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once… I have died and resurrected and I don’t know how many times I will die and resurrect.”
Well, he has finally and truly died and although many controversies dog his reign as Zimbabwe’s leader, his vision of an economically empowered populace remains to be a reality not just for Zimbabwe but for most Africans.