Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Petina Gappah.

The most encouraging news out of Africa this past week is the fall of Robert Mugabe, who had been Zimbabwe’s president for 37 years. The 93-year-old former president resigned after the Army intervened and the Parliament decided to impeach him. Writing in The New Yorker‘s News Desk, novelist and lawyer Petina Gappah presents an account of how the country freed itself from its founding father.

Here is an excerpt.

Thirty-seven years after he brought independence to the last outpost of the British Empire in Africa, Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is no more. Mugabe’s resignation, announced in Harare on Tuesday, ushers in a new era for his country, and his continent. At ninety-three, Mugabe was the last of Africa’s generation of modern founding Presidents. His resignation came after a tumultuous eight days in which the Zimbabwean Army intervened in the political process for the first time in the country’s history, thousands of Zimbabweans marched and danced in delirium in the streets, and Mugabe addressed the nation to resign, only to pull back in a final act of spectacular brinkmanship, before resigning when Parliament threatened him with the ignominy of impeachment.

For the many Zimbabweans under the age of thirty-seven, the end of the brutal Mugabe era is a vista-shifting, imagination-opening opportunity. More cautious voices from civil society and opposition parties caution against both euphoria and complacency: Mugabe, they warn, may be gone, but his zanu-P.F. party, so closely associated with both his failures and cruel excesses, remains in power.

Zimbabweans will forever associate the Mugabe years with the authoritarian repression that saw those who threatened the President’s power either killed, jailed and beaten, intimidated with treason charges that carried the death penalty, or, if they were fortunate, silenced and co-opted through patronage. His final years have all but obliterated the glorious promise of the period soon after Zimbabwe gained independence, in 1980. A vibrant economy collapsed, as his obsession with threats to his rule from within his own party paralyzed government. Rising levels of poverty went hand in hand with corruption and cronyism, meaning that, just as in the classic abuser-victim cycle, the same government that had destroyed livelihoods masqueraded as the benevolent provider of everything from food to tractors, and in return demanded that the recipients give the President their votes.

Among Mugabe’s most effective instruments, and one that he deployed frequently, was his extraordinary voice. It may seem odd to outsiders, but Mugabe’s speeches were one of the ways he held sway over his country. They contained sweeping phrases invoking Zimbabwe’s fifteen-year liberation struggle against the Rhodesian settler regime of Ian Smith. He employed rhetorical devices that made his words weapons: the amplification and over-enunciation; the deliberate, timed pauses between words; the elongation of the second syllables of certain words, such as “among,” ”indeed,” “comported”; and the evocation of emotion through lilting inflection at unexpected moments. His is the most recognizable voice in Zimbabwe not only because he was the only leader that generations have known but also because he speaks like no one else.

In his thirty-seven years in power, Mugabe tyrannically centralized power around his person, both at the national level and at the level of his political party, to such a degree that he seemed invincible. With longevity came decrepitude. Since he won a controversial election in 2013, his government has been battling an economy that, unlike his party, would not bend to his will. As Tendai Biti, a government critic and former finance minister, pithily retorted, you can rig elections but you can’t rig the economy.

Read the full essay HERE.

Tags: , ,

About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young

Otosirieze Obi-Young was born in Aba, Nigeria, and attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A finalist for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, his short stories include: “A Tenderer Blessing,” which appears in Transition Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015; “Mulumba,” which appears in The Threepenny Review; and “You Sing of a Longing,” which was shortlisted for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award and appears in Pride and Prejudice, an anthology by The Jacana Literary Foundation and The Other Foundation. His essays appear in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays and in Brittle Paper where he is Deputy Editor. His interviews appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa Magazine, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. A postgraduate student of African Studies, he currently teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Nigeria. When bored, he blogs pop culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com or just Googles Rihanna.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Mabanckou, Mengestu, Shoneyin: The Caine Prize Recruits Big Names as 2018 Judges

Alain Mabanckou - Afropolitain

For its 2018 edition, the Caine Prize has recruited a host of big names for its panel of judges. Alain […]

Nnedi Okorafor Releases First Issue of “Black Panther: Long Live the King.” Long Live The Queen.

Black Panther - Long Live the King

The forthcoming Black Panther movie, starring Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, has generated a world of hype. […]

Paris Review Editor Lorin Stein Resigns After Accusations of Sexual Misconduct at Work

Lorin Stein

American critic Lorin Stein, editor of the prestigious, career-making literary journal Paris Review, has resigned from his job after accusations […]

Revisiting Childhood | Adedayo Adeyemi Agarau | Poetry

5570178377_ca5e11db25_o

in church today/ the pastor mentioned the twelve ways to burning in hell/ he did not mention love/ i began […]

Photos | Happy Birthday to Ainehi Edoro, Founder and Editor of Brittle Paper

Ainehi Edoro 2

One evening in mid-2010, in her apartment in Chicago, Ainehi Edoro, then a PhD student at Duke University, looked up […]

Lola Shoneyin Is a Cover Star on Guardian Life Magazine

lola

It’s almost two years since Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation, graced the cover of Guardian Life Magazine, […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.