Mugabe: The Last of Africa's 'Big Men'?

By Rowan, Chris | Contemporary Review, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Mugabe: The Last of Africa's 'Big Men'?


Rowan, Chris, Contemporary Review


ROBERT Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, is over eighty years old. In the 'first world' a person of this age would have long had their bus pass allowing them free travel on city buses. They would have been in receipt of a state pension for about twenty years and would hopefully be growing old with a certain dignity and the respect of civil society round them after long useful lives. The last thing most octogenarians would want is to be solely responsible for the running of a poor country with its economy in freefall and facing international isolation because of their own mismanagement of what was once a thriving economy and the growing illegitimacy of their rule.

Legitimacy must be at the centre of any government particularly if the state and civil society are to maintain a fruitful working relationship. Without civil society seeing the government as legitimate the authority of the government has to be upheld in a different fashion and thus the power of the state to deploy coercive measures to hold onto its authority comes into play. Zimbabwe seems to prove that it is much more productive to provide for the needs of a society which will then remain content than it is for a self-centred, egotistical ruler to demand compliance by the use of violence. The social contract between ruler and ruled or government and governed has to be based on mutual trust and respect. Civil society must first trust that the ruler is legitimately in power and that he is looking after the best interests of the whole of society, but equally important is that the ruler should respect the people ruled over and not abuse the power of his position, for it is the 'position' that has the power, not the person that temporarily holds that position--even if 'temporarily' becomes longer than expected when elections are 'rigged' and incumbents alter constitutions to remain in power. In a country where questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the last two presidential elections it is becoming more and more clear that any historic respect for Mugabe is disappearing as he continues to cling to power only through the use of state violence. The social contract between rulers and ruled has been defined in a variety of ways by some of the giants of political philosophy such as Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651), John Locke in his Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690) and Jean Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract (1762) but however the relationship between ruler and ruled was explained there was always a reason for the legitimate acceptance of the ruler by the people ruled over.

Max Weber, best known as one of the founders of modern sociology, has identified three sources of legitimacy, namely traditional, charismatic and legal-rational (The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation). The history and culture of a society provides the basis for traditional legitimacy and it is easily illustrated through the example of medieval Europe where the vast majority of the people did not question the theory of succession and the divine right of kings. The subjects of the king's rule believed and therefore accepted that the legitimate right of the king to rule came from God and thus the population obeyed the king as head of state, as tradition dictated. The idea of charisma as a basis for the right to rule can be seen when individuals follow a particular leader because of the ideas of that person or because of their personality. Religious leaders, warlords and freedom fighters can be seen to fall into this bracket. However it is the third idea of legal-rational legitimacy that was supposed to lie at the heart of post-colonial government where legitimacy is granted through the ballot box and the will of the people. Social contract is at the heart of the liberal democratic ideal that was attempted to be put in place after the colonial powers left Africa and under this system officials are elected by the people for a limited period of time during which they should do what they can for the protection and improvement of their citizens' lives or face being removed under a later election. …

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