There is the off chance, for which I hope there is no reality, that by the time I turn 32, and am balding on the top and growing larger in the middle, and my own children run curiously through an unkempt yard of grass and plastic toys, that I will have spent my entire conscious life living under either President Bush or President Clinton.
The possibility is uncanny in America. We don’t always take our democracy fiercely, but I do, and the thought is scary. After all, for us, please do understand, monarchies and trans-generational leaders are things of history textbooks and pre-independence.
It’s been a lot worse for some people in Africa. It’s been a lot worse for the people of Zimbabwe, a case-in-point for when single leadership lasts too long.
Many Zimbabweans, like I now or like I in 2016, have spent the entirety of their lives under the rule of a single person. They have known nothing of what it is like for seasons to change.
Instead, time, and the pursuit of development, has become elastic, slowed down, and in the new century has even reversed.
Now, as Mugabe’s party ZANU-PF has officially lost the majority of parliament, and the president himself has not declared victory yet in the last five days, everything is becoming clear.
What once was is no more. Barring a second-round run-off, which in itself would be a mark of humiliation upon a proud man, the obituary and autopsy of possibly Africa’s most iconic strongman is now being written.
How will the man be remembered, the lion of the jungle? For all the gore and cruelty we know of the 21st century Zanu-PF and post-redistribution Mugabe, and for all the vote rigging and land seizures, we must acknowledge the lack of serious voter intimidation this time around in the 2008 elections.
If Mugabe is the monster we make him out to be, why didn’t the monster put his foot down on over half the population that voted against him?
For all the criticism the Mugabe administration takes, this is one thing that cannot be held against them; if the numbers are true, not only does it mean that an opposition party has actually beat Mugabe at his own game, but it means that the average Zimbabwean did not feel that his or her life were at risk if they voted their mind.
This is something that cannot be said for many countries, and even for Zimbabwe in the past. It is a miracle that not only is there a healthy tug-of-war between political parties in the country, but that people are not scared off by the ruling party to choose freely in the election.
And we should not blame Mugabe for all of the country’s ills, but we must blame him for some of the very things that have finally caused his downfall—one of Africa’s highest literacy rates; one of Africa’s most thorough and widespread education systems; one of Africa’s best infrastructure and urban development systems.
All things that lead to independent thought. Things will swiftly improve. Internally, Zimbabweans will feel the rush and excitement of a new dawn. The transition itself can spark a new urgency and mission for the country.
Similarly, foreign relations with the West, and the sanctions that have come along with them, will improve drastically simply because Mugabe is now out of power.
Tsvangirai must only exist as president for Commonwealth status to be reconsidered and sanctions dropped. These were political ammunitions targeted at Mugabe but affecting the entire country. That’s what happens when a leader becomes more personality than politic.
So how long before we start to miss him? In the post-USSR breakaway states, Soviet nostalgia came back within a decade, as the fruits of its liberal market successor led to an under-regulated economy, and many things grew worse.
There is no doubt here in Africa we are infected with the same hearts. Surely, we too will find ourselves in moments, in some years to come, reminiscing of the ‘fierce nationalism’ of the Mugabe regime. Though it seems hard to imagine now, old sentiments of independence and afro-centricity will someday resurface.
But for now, like that distant day in 2016 if the Clinton dynasty finally steps down, our eyes are only on the future.
Last year at this very time, The New Times ran several articles covering the MDC rallies at the Harare stadium where Tsvangirai was beaten and arrested along with others.
The media both in Rwanda and abroad called this a “watershed” moment in the history of the country. One year later, the water has finally spilled over. It’s bubbling.