Magazine article New African

Mugabe: Villain or Hero?

Magazine article New African

Mugabe: Villain or Hero?

Article excerpt

Roy Agyemang, a British-born Ghanaian, has become the first "Western" film director to have close access to Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe (pictured above). His film, five years in the making and controversially titled Mugabe: Villain or Hero?, was premiered on 15 December 2012 at the British Film Institute in the heart of London where it received a prolonged standing ovation at the end of the screening. Here, Roy Agyemang tells how he got to make the film, and how he saw Zimbabwe and its longstanding leader while working on the project.

HAVING SPENT THE LAST FIVE YEARS making a film on Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, many of my friends said I was crazy to have a preview screening at the British Film Institute in London, a notoriously tough audience. My Zimbabwean colleague, Garikayi Mushambadope, warned that the anti-Mugabe campaigners would pelt me with eggs and flour for the tide alone, Mugabe: Villain or Hero?

Thankfully I came away unscathed. I was honoured to get three standing ovations from a very mixed audience.

I was in Zimbabwe between 2007 and 2010 when the economic catastrophe was at its height. Western governments were rubbing their hands with glee, as Mugabe's grip on power appeared to be loosening. I thought I was going to witness the ousting of one of Africa's longest serving leaders. Mugabe survived but only just.

In 2007, live on British television, the Archbishop of York, Ugandan Bishop John Sentamu, cut his collar up with scissors to protest against Mugabe being in power. He said he would only replace his collar if Mugabe were removed.

Mugabe's reputation in the Western media as an "evil madman" is well documented. Based on the information available and from what! could see prior to arriving in Zimbabwe, the case against Mugabe was overwhelming.

But what aroused my curiosity was the fact that Mugabe had not been eliminated by the West and still remained in power, which is no mean feat, especially during the trigger-happy era of George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Was there more to Mugabe and Zimbabwe than what was being shown on our television screens? What was the true extent of Mugabe's support inside the country?

The question of how Mugabe has remained in power is of vital importance to anyone trying to understand his country's past, and its future direction.

As the first "Western" filmmaker (though born to Ghanaian parents) to gain access to Robert Mugabe, I wanted to understand the answer. Together with my UK-based Zimbabwean producer, Garikayi Mushambadope, we worked our way through the corridors of power, probing the cultural, economic, and historical factors at the heart of the "Zimbabwean crisis".

We travelled to all corners of the country with President Mugabe, trying to build his trust in the hope that he would give us a rare interview. It took almost two years to get the first interview. I ended up travelling as part of his delegation on foreign trips, which was even a surprise to the Zimbabwe Foreign Ministry that handled my British passport. The fact that I stayed in the country and lived through the hardships like the rest of Zimbabweans seemed to help, also being of Ghanaian heritage worked in my favour. The Zimbabwean authorities were very suspicious of a film crew coming from the UK. They felt Western governments were using the media to induce regime change in Zimbabwe. That made my work incredibly difficult.

The security personnel did monitor us from time to time but most of our harassment came from ordinary Zimbabweans who were fed up with the negative portrayal of their country in the Western media.

I lived in Harare where many of my friends were supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. I would sit in their living rooms watching the international news, and they would literally berate the television screen, dismayed at the reports. …

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