Robert Mugabe. (Reviews)

African Business, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Robert Mugabe. (Reviews)


A LIFE OF POWER AND VIOLENCE

By STEPHEN CHAN

[pounds sterling]14.95 I.B.Tauris

ISBN 1-86064-873-8

With this book, Stephen Chan is attempting to explain a paradox. That paradox is tied up in the character of one man - Robert Mugabe - and the author invests his considerable personal knowledge of Zimbabwe to produce a finely argued text that explores one central question: Is Robert Mugabe an African hero fighting to reverse decades of colonial exploitation and the resulting inequality of land distribution? Or is he a modern day African Stalinist, ruthlessly amassing and retaining power with intimidation, savagery, and brutal repression?

Stephen Chan is an academic, and a prolific author. Currently, he is Professor of International Relations and Dean of Law and Social Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London, UK. He was a member of the Commonwealth Secretariat from 1977 to 1983 - albeit, he admits, a junior member. Still, as "a tangentially connected figure" he was in a position to observe and learn from much that occurred during this period, and to attend meetings of the Commonwealth Committee on Southern Africa that sat in parallel session to the negotiations at Lancaster House.

He spent much of the early months of 1980 in what was still officially Southern Rhodesia seconded to the staff of the Commonwealth Observer Group monitoring the elections that would determine independent Zimbabwe's first government. After independence, he became an advisor to Teurai Ropa, Zimbabwe's first Minister of Youth, Sport and Recreation, helping to formulate policy within the new Ministry. Since 1983, and the end of his advisory role to the Zimbabwean government, Chan has visited Zimbabwe at least once a year - and has also lived for a time in Zambia.

HIGHLY CRITICAL OF MUGABE

What the author has done is present the differing arguments in a reasonably dispassionate way. Even if the author states categorically that he is not seeking to demonise Mugabe, it is evident that Chan is highly critical of the Zimbabwean President.

The savage crushing of the Matebeleland uprisings in the early years of Mugabe's rule, predating by 20 years the means employed to effect land reform that has created, along with drought, a famine of horrifying dimensions in today's Zimbabwe - are the most pointed censures.

However, Chan also emphasises what he considers will be Mugabe's most enduring positive legacy. He points to the early years, the honeymoon period, when Mugabe managed to effect reconcillation and build national unity after years of a brutal civil war. …

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