In his article on “How dictators stay in power” see The Zimbabwean newspaper, UZ Student Zivai Mhetu attributed the dictators’ staying-power to how they create fictitious enemies to divert attention away from their own misrule.
“Their most common tactic is that of conjuring up ‘enemies of the people’ or fictitious threats in a bid to rally their people against an imaginary foe while distracting them from the real enemy – the dictator himself. For Hitler it was the Jews, for Idi Amin, the Asians; for other African dictators, the west,” wrote Zivai.
Zivai went on to give many examples of how dictators have played this dirty trick to achieve their objective; I encourage you to read the article for yourself, it is well worth reading; I will just quote the last example he gave.
“In the social sciences, legitimation refers to the process whereby an act, process, ideology, or in this case, the dictator becomes legitimate by his/her attachment to norms and values widely shared within the country,” wrote Zivai. “A strong anti-gay stance in a nation that is predominantly Christian and frowns upon that sort of thing can move mountains for a dictator in as far as the legitimation process is concerned. The same applies for inclination towards socialist policies in a country where the majority are workers and not owners of capital.”
Mugabe’s anti-gay stance did indeed move political opinion mountains for him in 1995; I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. That year The Zimbabwe Book Fair organizers had assembled such luminaries as playwright and poet Wole Soyinka and author Nadine Gordimer both winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is 1986 and 1991 respective to speak about freedom of expression. Given Zanu PF’s total domination of the public media and draconian laws to muzzle the little private media there was left in the country; freedom of expression was therefore a burning issue to every freedom loving Zimbabweans, at least one would have thought.
The Book Fair organizers had allowed Zimbabwe’s Gay and Lesbian group, who were campaigning for the scraping of the law homosexual a criminal offence, to have a stand at the book fair. The Zanu PF control public media pick on that and went to town and so did Mugabe.
Mugabe and his propagandists distorted the facts turning the homosexual debate into such an emotive issue, the important debate on freedom of expression was elbowed off the national agenda and the golden opportunity to address this key national issue was lost! Indeed Mugabe has often evoked this theme again and again precisely because it is an emotive issue and has milked it for all its worth!
Today, 36 years after our independence, Zimbabwe is in a serious political and economic mess whose Genesis can be traced back to the country’s failure to create a free, just and democratic society in 1980. The only way out of the mess is for the country to implement democratic reforms designed to dismantle the Zanu PF dictatorship. One of these key reforms is media reform to ensure the country has freedom of expression and free media – the very things Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer told about in the Oasis Hotel back in 1995, if only we had listened!
Zivai started his article by speculating on where dictators get their inspirations on what tricks to play to stay in power.
“Dictators who have emerged all over the world in modern times use such similar tactics to stay in power that one can be forgiven for thinking they have a secret ‘dictator’s book’ with instructions on how to establish and consolidate despotic rule,” he speculated. “Either such a book exists – the Prince by Machiavelli maybe – or the autocratic behaviour of dictators constitutes a case of isomorphic mimicry of the earliest people in the ‘trade.’”
There is a more simple and obvious explanation here for which the dictator does not need a book or master art of mimicry – child psychology. If you want to take away the toy from a child you play with the empty box with such attention that the child quickly loses interest in the toy and want to play with the box. It works every time because the child has no sense of the true value of the toy compared to the empty box!
Mugabe has systematically and routinely denied us our freedoms and basic human rights and dignities as easily as one taking away toys from a child. Dictators’ machinations and shenanigans work on a very naïve and gullible public – people who, instead of seeing all the colours of the rainbow, see everything only in monochrome, black or white, right or wrong and, with the application of more ruthless brainwashing technics, will even believe poor is the new rich and to bleat “four legs good, two legs better!”
Of course the Zimbabweans are not helpless children and therefore should know better but clearly the do not as Mugabe has blatantly conned them again and again for the last 36 years; the facts on the ground speak for themselves.
So Zivai Mhetu, it is not so much how the dictator is staying in power but rather how the people themselves, by being so naïve and gullible, are the ones keeping the tyrant in power. The argument to see the people themselves not just as powerless and helpless victims of the dictatorship but rather as the authors of their own tragic tale gains more credence when one considers the number of opportunities the people had to end the dictatorship and yet wasted them all.
The best chance Zimbabwe had in the last 36 years to end the Mugabe dictatorship was, without doubt, during the 2008 to 2013 GNU. All the nation needed to do then was to implement the democratic reforms spelt out in the 2008 GPA. Not even one was implemented!
Yes Mugabe played his usual devil’s role in that he is the one who bribed Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC friends to kick the reforms into the tall grass. Still it cannot be denied that it was us, the people, who once made it so damn easy for Mugabe carryout his evil plans; we are the ones who elected the corrupt and incompetent MDC leaders into power in the first place and, to make matters worse, failed to supervise the village idiots to ensure all the reforms were implemented.
Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation has brought a lot of human misery and even deaths many people are now living in abject poverty and where poverty dwells, sickness and death are there also. The only positive thing to emerge out of the economic meltdown is that it has forced Mugabe and Zanu PF to accept that there will have to be political change or the economic situation will get worse and worse until there is change. The most important question now is what kind of political change are we going to see?
If the people continue to be naïve and gullible and elect corrupt and incompetent opposition leaders then it is certain that no meaningful reforms will be implemented. Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, Mai Mujuru and many of the current crop of opposition leaders have already proven beyond all reasonable doubt that they are corrupt and incompetent it is sheer folly to believe that anyone of them will deliver the democratic changes the nation is dying for.
As things stand, the best solution for Zimbabwe right now is to have an interim government whose principal duty is to implement all the democratic reforms and thus completely dismantle the Zanu PF dictatorship and replace the system with a democratic complete with free media and freedom of expression and democratic competition. Quality leaders will emerge out of this system.
It is most disconcerting to hear people who have only recently started denouncing Mugabe as a murderous tyrant and even join in the street protest boasting of “Tajamuka” (We are enlightened!). And yet the same people continue to follow the same recycled corrupt and incompetent leaders like Tsvangirai or Mujuru. They are clearly refusing to see Tsvangirai or Mai Mujuru for the corrupt and incompetent leaders they are because of the binary mentality, having finally decided Mugabe was bad anyone challenging Mugabe must therefore be good! Being enlightened meanings one is no longer naïve and gullible and cured of the simplicity binary mentality.
Conclusion: it is the naïve and gullible electorate with their childlike binary mentality who are keeping dictators in power. It therefore follows that in the fight to end dictatorial rule and/or to guard against it rearing its ugly head make sure the people are not naïve and gullible.