James Kirchik has an interesting essay in the Los Angeles Times revisiting what has become conventional wisdom about the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, namely that he "was a promising leader who became corrupted over time by power." This is clearly nonesense, and only serves to assuage the conscience of the "enlightened" elites who enthusiastically supported him at the time of his struggle for power. Kirchik explains:
But this popular conception of Mugabe -- propagated by the liberals who championed him in the 1970s and 1980s -- is absolutely wrong. From the beginning of his political career, Mugabe was not just a Marxist but one who repeatedly made clear his intention to run Zimbabwe as an authoritarian, one-party state. Characteristic of this historical revisionism is former Newsweek southern Africa correspondent Joshua Hammer, writing recently in the liberal Washington Monthly that "more than a quarter-century after leading his guerrilla army to victory over the racist regime of Ian Smith in white-minority-ruled Rhodesia, President Robert Mugabe has morphed into a caricature of the African Big Man."Do read the whole thing.
But Mugabe did not "morph" into "a caricature of the African Big Man." He has been one since he took power in 1980 -- and he displayed unmistakable authoritarian traits well before that. Those who were watching at the time should have known what kind of man Mugabe was, and the fact that so many today persist in the contention that Mugabe was a once-benign ruler speaks much about liberal illusions of African nationalism.
All the participants in the Rhodesian war used vicious tactics. But Mugabe displayed a particular ruthlessness that ought to have indicated what sort of ruler he might one day become. In 1978, four black moderates announced that they had reached an "internal settlement" with the white regime, paving the way for democratic elections. One of these leaders, Ndabaningi Sithole, dispatched 39 envoys to meet representatives of Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, another guerrilla leader. The envoys were captured, murdered and, according to Time magazine, "their bodies were then laid out by the guerrillas in a grisly line at the side of the road as a warning to local tribespeople."
The following year, in protest of the election that then-Premier Ian Smith had organized with black leaders willing to lay down their arms, Mugabe's organization released a death list naming 50 "Zimbabwean black bourgeoisie, traitors, fellow-travelers and puppets of the Ian Smith regime, opportunistic running-dogs and other capitalist vultures." During those elections, Mugabe and Nkomo's forces killed 10 black civilians attempting to vote. Mugabe's men also blew up a Woolworth's store and massacred Catholic missionaries.
Mugabe was clear about his preference for authoritarian rule. Years before taking office, asked what sort of political future he envisioned for Zimbabwe, Mugabe expressed his belief that "the multiparty system . . . is a luxury" and that if Zimbabweans did not like Marxism, "then we will have to re-educate them."