Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, and Other Undead Dictators: Peter Godwin Discusses The Fear
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 31 years, often through violence
A bloody uprising tears through a small, resource-rich country. A leader emerges, promising an end to years of elitist, white rule and the beginning of a new socialist utopia. But instead of relinquishing power, that leader becomes a strongman, an authoritarian... a dictator.
Godwin, who is white, was born and raised in Zimbabwe. He left to attend university in England, but returned to Africa as a correspondent for the Sunday Times and the BBC. For years, he watched as his country fell apart under Mugabe's violent rule.
"Zimbabwe was once the great hope of Africa," he says. "It was painful to see that country spiral down in this sort of death dive into an utterly collapsed state."
"I was absolutely struck when I was in Havana of similarities in the whole way you create a dictatorship, especially ones that come out of a liberation movement," Godwin says. "The liberating party has this stranglehold on political legitimacy. Only it can have authenticity, and it tends to block out other voices. No matter how the ruling party atrophies and becomes sclerotic and atrophied, they are very difficult to dislodge without violence."
"In that sense, Mugabe is similar to Castro," Godwin adds. "When he looks in the mirror, he doesn't see a dictator looking back. He sees a revolutionary." Hence the insistence on (questionable) elections: "He yearns for the high ground."
Most worrying for Cuba, Godwin says, is that countries are loath to shed themselves of leaders or parties still credited with defeating colonial or imperialist rule.
"If you look at southern African countries [that overcame apartheid and white colonial rule], none of them have lost power," he says. "That's how powerful the revolutionary legacy is."
The result in Cuba and Zimbabwe is that "people have been waiting for fucking ever" for their respective strongmen to kick the bucket. But Godwin says even playing the waiting game can be dangerous. "That can become unto itself a sort of panacea," he says. "It becomes something in lieu of real policy. You're just waiting for somebody to die."
If there is hope for Cuba or Zimbabwe in The Fear, it's that despite dictators, their peoples remain resilient.
"Sometimes you just want to lie down and weep," Godwin admits. "But the thing about Zimbabwe is that it can recover... If political normality returned, the country would flourish."
Peter Godwin will discuss his book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in Miami Dade College's Building 2, 1st Floor, Room 2106.
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