Cliff Chiduku

IN Proverbs 13:20, King Solomon, the biblical wisest man ever, wrote: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

To Solomon, walking with a person implies admiration and attachment; and it is impossible not to imitate those we love.

Similarly, it is said: “Let me know the company he keeps, and I shall easily guess his moral character.”

Our current friends define who we are. A friend is someone we choose to spend time and associate with. The people we choose to be around with shape our personality — the way we think, speak and perceive the world.

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Whether we are aware of it or not, the people we choose to pay attention to and consider friends frame our reality. They are a barometer of what is normal, what is possible. Dan Pena could have been right when he said: “Show me your friends and I will show you your future.”

When the new dispensation chose to befriend countries with a poor human rights record such as Uganda, Rwanda and Belarus, some of us knew that Zimbabwe had taken a longer route to freedom.

The recent crackdown on opposition leaders and the media in Uganda is clear as crystal that the east central African country is slowly and surely sinking into anarchy.

Led by Yoweri Museveni, once hailed as a freedom fighter and liberator, the President, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, is turning into an autocratic leader, bent on silencing the opposition and civic society activists in his unbridled quest to retain power.

Uganda is one country that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has befriended since he assumed the top post in the wake of a November 2017 coup. Museveni was in the country to officially open the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo in April.

In a gesture of a good turn deserves another, Mnangagwa was the only head of State and government who graced Uganda’s 57th independence anniversary celebrations held a fortnight ago.

Mnangagwa was accorded the highest honour in Uganda of the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa, The Grand Master, in “recognition of his contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and other southern African countries”.

Museveni spoke glowingly of Mnangagwa, who he described as a “visionary, pragmatist, pan-Africanist, peacemaker and unifier”, who is committed to improving the quality of life of the people of Zimbabwe. The chase for narrow interests and intolerance to divergent views — especially from the opposition activists and civil society organisation — have tainted Museveni’s image in the eyes of both Ugandans and the international community.

Events unfolding in Uganda for the past decades are a clear proof that absolute power corrupt absolutely. Uganda is a good example of how some leaders hurt their own people out of fear of being chucked out of State House.

In July, Mnangagwa was criticised for spending scarce resources in attending Rwanda’s 25th commemorations to mark the end of genocide at a time Zimbabwe was literally burning. Mnangagwa was trying to emulate his Rwandese counterpart Paul Kagame’s economic development model, which blends authoritarian practices and home-grown solutions with international best practices.

Last month, opposition leaders in Rwanda raised a red flag over their safety, following another murder of a prominent opposition activist, even though the government denied any wrongdoing. Rights activists believe the killings, abductions, torture and disappearance of opposition activists were politically-motivated and warned that many more would die under the regime which is described as a dictatorship.

Mnangagwa was in Belarus where he opened a consulate in Minsk in January. President Alexander Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus with an iron fist since 1994.

The country has faced sanctions owing to its poor human rights record. Belarus is one of the least democratic countries in Europe, and is Europe’s only country that still has the death penalty on its statutes. Minsk has been generous to Zimbabwe as it supplied Zupco buses to ease transport woes.

Mnangagwa is a secret admirer of Museveni, Lukashenko and Kagame. These three leaders have striking similarities — they all rule their countries with an iron fist. At one time, Lukashenko boasted that it was “better to be a dictator than gay” when responding to criticism over the country’s poor human rights record.

After November 2017, despite being held in high regard within the international community, where he had goodwill, Mnangagwa will nonetheless go down the annals of history as a liberator who betrayed his people and a leader who knew what needed to be done, but chose to look the other way.

Currently, uncertainty looms with regard to where Zimbabwe is heading. The country is heading nowhere fast. Rampant corruption in virtually all government institutions continues unabated. The Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s reports are testimony to this.

More often, police and the military officers, armed to the teeth, are unleashed on peaceful demonstrators, who are exercising their constitutional right to register their anger on how the country is being administered.

Tear smoke canisters and water cannons have been imported in large quantities, while consumables and drugs are out of stock in local hospitals.

Roads are dilapidated, hospitals have only become worse and even the HIV/Aids successes have stalled.

To imagine the country has run out of life-saving anti-retrovial drugs barely two weeks after Zimbabwe “pledged” US$1 million to the Global Fund is confounding.

In Uganda, the dozen arrests of a renowned musician and opposition activists, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, at the instigation of the country’s chief executive is a pointer to how far Museveni will go to consolidate his grip on power.

Bobi Wine was last year arrested after Museveni’s motorcade was “attacked” by unknown people.

The government critic was later arraigned before a military court and charged for illegal possession of arms, a charge which was condemned by the international community as politically-motivated.

When Bobi Wine came to Zimbabwe in May this year, he was detained and interrogated by State security agents at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

Boby Wine had been invited to preside as guest of honour at Nelson Chamisa-led MDC congress in Gweru on May 26. That such repressive regimes worldwide are interconnected is an open secret.

These traits are also found in Mnanagwa, who has been working towards entrenching his rule by using legislative and constitutional amendments.

In an interview with State media recently, Mnangagwa’s Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi revealed that the Executive was toying around with the idea of amending the Constitution so that the President is not compelled to select a running mate. The running mate clause was introduced in the 2013 Constitution, but was suspended for 10 years. However, the clause will take effect in the 2023 elections.

“Another amendment has to do with removing the running mate clause,” Ziyambi said.

Mnangagwa seems afraid of upsetting the applecart in Zanu PF by appointing a running mate, who would naturally take over from him in case of incapacitation, resignation or death without necessarily going through the party selection processes. Mnangagwa is looking beyond 2023, no wonder he told he world that 2030 ndenge ndichipo (2030 I will still be around).

Mnangagwa’s conscience may have died, but he knows that democracy, equality, good governance and Zimbabwe is open for business mantra he preached now look somewhat awkward.

The Zanu PF government should shake off the old self and seek new friends, who can influence Zimbabwe to adopt international best practices in terms of governance so that Zimbabwe can be readmitted back into the family of nations.

Mnangagwa squandered the goodwill he had in November 2017, thanks to his power retention shenanigans. Surely, Mnangagwa is not only Museveni, Kagame and Lukashenko’s best friend, but their good student.