That Zimbabwe’s Octogenarian leader Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF has been humbled in parliamentary elections and forced into a re-run in the presidential contest, is telling of the fate of the liberation and independence movements on the continent. The waning popularity of many of these political organisations and more still their leaders who have long enjoyed iconic status does not stop in Zimbabwe.
Another example is the way KANU was humiliated in the Kenya elections of 2002 when the then opposition under Mwai Kibaki defeated the party which had fielded the son of Kenya’s independence leader Jommo Kenyatta.
Before that Kenneth Kaunda was humiliated by Fredrick Chiluba in Zambia after the return of multi-party politics.
It is worth noting that African liberation movements and their leaders played a great role in the history of Africa. They liberated African countries from the yoke of colonial rule.
ZANU-PF under Mugabe emerged as the main politico-military organization after the struggle against Ian Smith who had unilaterally declared independence from Britain and sought to introduce a similar system as witnessed in apartheid South Africa.
In the then Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe and other leaders like Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Bishop Abel Muzorewa had for long been at the forefront of the political and military struggle against the Ian Smith led group.
After assuming power Mugabe is credited with having presided over the country’s economic progress. But this later took a turn for the worse as an otherwise noble land redistribution program went bad and led to the collapse of the strong economy.
At the turn of the century many people who had for long supported Mugabe started questioning his policies and the way he was managing the country. At the same time many western powers who had been strong backers of Mugabe also started criticizing his style.
He earned his country a place on the list of countries characterised by the United States as out posts of tyranny.
Mugabe on his part did not disappoint those who see the West as harboring imperial ambitions on the continent. He dismissed the West as being arrogant and sought to portray the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change- MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai as surrogates of the West.
Mugabe has always written off Tsvangirai as an “ignoramus” thanks to his modest education. Tsvangirai a secondary school drop-out was following in the footsteps of Fredrick Chiluba who had mobilized the labour movement in Zimbabwe’s northern neighbor, Zambia
In Zambia in the early nineties Chiluba defeated Kenneth Kaunda, another icon of the independence struggle.
Mugabe seems to be the last in that generation still standing. A number of them have been defeated in democratic elections while others were shown the door by the military.
What is apparent is the increasing power and clout of labour based political organisations like the MDC in Zimbabwe.
This has a lot of implications as regards the political trajectory of most of Africa. These labour based political movements are composed of the struggling masses who are clearly interested in issues of bread and butter, rather than politics of nationalism that was the hall mark of the liberation era.
This trend is also reflected in the massive support that the youth and slum dwellers gave Raila Odinga leader of the Orange Democratic Movement in Kenya recently, that was seen to be fighting against the old guard.
Though Mugabe could pull off a surprise in the runoff, a clear message has been sent.
It is no longer enough to talk about liberation struggles but more must be done in addressing the pressing issues that face people on a daily basis. Mugabe seems to have overstayed his welcome. He obviously has been dancing to the wrong tune.
He, like others of his ilk, played their part. But he has outlived his usefulness.
One thing is apparent. Africa is clearly moving away from the era of politics determined by nationalistic agendas as championed by the independence and liberation era icons to the labour based politics of bread and butter issues of the day.