Former Zimbabwean President, the late, Robert Mugabe was many things: a liberator, freedom fighter, patriot, dictator and oppressor. While there are many variants on these themes of leadership throughout our continent, arguably Mugabe was the most extreme version.
It is, of course, right that we all remember Mugabe’s struggle against brutal British colonial rule and the heroic efforts he and his comrades made to overthrow the Rhodesian Government.
When the Republic of Zimbabwe was formed, Mugabe did his best to allay fears amongst the Europeans that he wanted them to stay and be part of the new state. In fact, under Mugabe, during the early years, Zimbabwe had excellent relations with its former rulers in Britain, and many thought that the southern African nation would return to its status as the ‘breadbasket of Africa’.
Unfortunately, primarily for the Zimbabwean people, it did not turn out that way.
What many witnessed as Mugabe’s extreme paranoia saw him take brutal steps to oppress his people, tear apart race relations and deal with any threats or criticism of him with a strong and bloody fist.
In Kenya, we have certain constitutional barriers to the type of excess wrought by Mugabe. However, a serious question can be asked whether we currently have enough.
For many years, Kenya was largely a one-state party and was ruled by a strong leader who had almost complete executive power-Daniel arap Moi. This type of power invested in one person has not led to the kind of oppression as that found in Zimbabwe, but it certainly privileged few areas and tribes who supported the leadership over others.
It is clear that if you would have asked two Kenyans from different areas and tribes a number of years ago what they thought of the government system, you would probably have found two very different answers depending on their background and whether they were in circles of attachment to the leadership.
Today, under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership, this is definitely changing.
President Kenyatta has narrowed the gaps between tribes and regions and has very prominently secured progress and development for tribal areas in places he is unlikely to amass much political support.
That an individual would go out of their way to ensure that no Kenyans are left behind as the nation lurches towards middle-income status says much, but can or should we leave our whole system to the lottery of personality and leadership traits.
If Mugabe divided, then Uhuru unites.
Nevertheless, can we be sure that a Mugabe will not arise in Kenya and undo the good work of late?
This is precisely why we need to make the necessary constitutional changes, especially under Uhuru who clearly has the best interests of the nation and its people at heart.
We need the president’s power to be more devolved. We need more groups to become invested in rule, so there is a balance of power where no one leader, tribe or region can rule alone.
If, God forbid, a leader like Mugabe in Kenya should arise, and we can imagine them even now as some of our leading politicians use threats, fear and violence to gain prominence, we must ensure that they will not be able to advance a divisive and brutal regime.
It is relatively easy to destroy a weak infrastructure, but the Building Bridges Initiative report released recently, builds such a strong foundation across our nation and in the portals of power that no one will be able to destroy its inclusive vision.
As the nation continues to speak on the BBI report, it’s imperative to remember that building strong bridges in governance is vital for the long-term vision of our country. The BBI debate is one where we all have a stake because we all, by the nature of the discussion, add another rivet to ensure it can never be undone or dismantled.
We can easily be lulled into the feeling that what happened in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, cannot happen here, especially under leadership like Uhuru’s.
This would be foolhardy, nonetheless.
It is exactly towards the end of Uhuru’s leadership that we need to plan for the future. It is apparent that Uhuru is already prepared to further limit his executive powers for the betterment, security and safety of the nation. He is proposing something unique in the annals of African history, to weaken himself and his rule.
So, while we can commemorate Mugabe and the role he played in liberation, we should learn more from his abuses of power.
We have a chance in Kenya with the BBI and constitutional reform to build such a bold, rigid and robust power infrastructure, that is disbursed and devolved, which will ensure we never get even close to descending towards the type of dictatorship that ruined Zimbabwe.
Mr Mugolla comments on topical social and political issues