By Hopewell Chin’ono
If there is ever one thing that Zimbabwean political parties, politicians and their communication departments have never mastered, it is to understand how to use their relationship with the media profitably and understanding how the media works, especially foreign media.
Whoever advised Robert Mugabe to invite foreign media into his embarrassingly expensive home, that person is definitely ignorant of today’s media and communication skills. We saw the grotesque conspicuous consumption on display.
My former colleagues at ITV News who covered yesterday’s Mugabe briefing, opened their news package with the ostentatious multi million dollar lifestyle on show in a country ruled by Mugabe for 37 years, where there is no clean running water.
In a sea of poverty, the world was shown how ridiculously rich the dictator who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years is and how he lived a Hollywood lifestyle. We learned of how delusional he still is to imagine that he could and should be part of Zimbabwe’s political and economic solutions.
His handlers exposed the retired tyrant to the world but not in any meaningful way, those who ever doubted how detached Mugabe’s delusional character was, yesterday’s media interviews were their answer.
Mugabe thought that he was chipping away at Emmerson Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, but he did the opposite. He said that Zimbabwe was prosperous, he said that Gukurahundi was not his problem but ZAPU’s.
He said that he was a democrat and that Zimbabwe was in good shape. He basically continued on his old script of denialism and delusional rants.
He never takes responsibility for anything bad that he did. It is all our fault in his narcissistic mind and we should be thankful to him for having liberated us. He is at sea and oblivious to the terrible price that 15 million people have had to pay in 37 ruinous years of his rule.
Whilst many families have been divided by the need to seek greener pastures outside Zimbabwe, he was busy paying himself in cash and buying multi million dollar rings for his wife.
Whilst many women die at childbirth for lack of better health facilities, his kids taunt us posting videos pouring champagne on hundred thousand dollar Rolex watches.
These interviews did more damage to him than to Emmerson Mnangagwa. If I were Mnangagwa, I would not respond to anything that Mugabe said. I would also encourage the state media to ignore the old-man by not commenting about anything Mugabe said in his rants.
Commenting will give Mugabe’s rants extra legs, energy and the political relevance that he is so desperately seeking. Yesterday showed how political parties must understand that not all publicity is “good publicity” in politics.
We saw how badly briefed Mugabe was when he spoke about his imagined popularity, and up to this very day, he continues with the lie that it was only MDC supporters that marched against him in November.
At a time when the Zimbabwean government and Emmerson Mnangagwa were starting to get stick for the social and economic malaise in the country on legitimate issues like money shortages, doctor’s strikes, unreformed repressive laws like AIPPA and POSA, failure to give plausible explanations to the targets they overpromised, in comes Robert Mugabe to remind us why what we have now regardless of its legitimacy problems is far much better than the Mugabe years.
At least we have an upcoming election to chose a leader and political party of our own choice, something that Mugabe wouldn’t countenance as he continuously ordered the state security services to repress the citizens.
Robert Mugabe spoke about how the state security intelligence organization, CIO and the police were in his own words, completely neutralized by the army in November when he was forced out.
This is the same state security agencies that Mugabe had used to brutalize citizens and subdue them by removing their right to constitutionalism and yet today he wants us to sympathize with him for not being able to have used them once more in November 2017.
Mugabe spoke about how he left his teaching profession to save the country from colonial oppression, once again as his uncle, the veteran nationalist James Chikerema once said, everything revolves around Robert Mugabe the person.
Mugabe spoke about how he made Emmerson Mnangagwa and how he felt betrayed by him, he forgot to talk about how he publicly embarrassed him nine times at his made up Youth Interface rallies where his wife took the role of Chief lynching Officer.
They took turns to belittle Emmerson Mnangagwa and a long list of other politicians including Mugabe’s own spokesman, George Charamba. This ended in Mugabe firing Mnangagwa and sending his people to go after him, perhaps to finish him off.
After all this humiliation that he piled on Mnangagwa and his allies, did he seriously expect them to be loyal to him regardless?!
This is vintage selfish Robert Mugabe in action showing the whole world that nothing matters at all except his lust for power, which he used to regress Zimbabwe to 1965 standards, and yet he thinks that we are the most developed country on the continent outside South Africa.
Robert Mugabe stayed in power through electoral fraud, use of intimidation and violence, theft of state resources to oil his patronage system, the divide and rule tactic which deployed to devastating effect, smooth rhetoric, lies and deception, murder of opponents, the list goes on.
The same man comes back three months later after his demise offering to bring stability to a broken country which he destroyed for 37 years, NO Robert, we don’t need you and we won’t fall for your con tactics ever again!
If there is one positive thing that came out of these media briefings, it was how they made Mugabe look even more pathetic than we ever imagined, how he looked and sounded genuinely bitter, how he sounded selfish and mentally deluded and how his team and himself are out of step with public opinion. It also showed how Mugabe fails to understand that without the state machinery that he used to intimidate the citizens, he is completely nothing at all.
The irony is that he now relies on foreign and local private media to deliver his incoherent political messages, the same media that he effectively blocked from doing its work with the help of his now right hand man, Jonathan Moyo.
Whilst he says that he feels lonely and isolated, he should be reminded that there are many thousands of families who feel lonely through the killing of their relatives and friends through his orders to sustain his brutal rule.
He spoke of how Solomon Mujuru was a drunk, smoker and terrible guy, reminding us of how he was once response for the burning of a hotel in the 70s in Geneva, perhaps his hatred for him couldn’t be contained any longer in 2011.
Whilst he reminded us of his CIO operatives who disappeared in November during the military intervention, he should also tell Itai Dzamara’s family where he is. After all he was the commander in chief. That would be a good starting point if he wants to have an honest discussion with his compatriots.
Whilst he wants to remind us of how unconstitutional Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency is, he should also perhaps tell us how he became an unconstitutional president in 2008 when he walked on dead bodies back into the state house after losing to Morgan Tsvangirai.
This interview also showed us how Jonathan Moyo lied in his BBC Hardtalk interview saying that he sought refuge at Saviour Kasukuwere’s home. Mugabe gave a totally different version of events saying that both men sought refugee at his Blue Roof mansion.
This media junket was a total disaster for both Robert Mugabe and his NPF handlers.
I wonder what part of the human emotion and body that Robert Mugabe and his handlers wanted to appeal to. It was certainly not the brain.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March. He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope