Photograph — AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

During a state funeral for a cabinet member in 2003, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe stated, “I am still the Hitler of the time, this Hitler has only one objective: Justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler.”

After the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, who lead Libya for more than 40 years, Mugabe became the poster boy for sit tight leadership in Africa. Several critics have continuously drawn attention to the pitfalls of this brand of leadership, but maybe we should be asking another question. What if this kind of leadership has the capacity to curb indiscipline?

In 2008, a Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Award recipient, Helena Selby, explained that it takes discipline to rise to great heights of civilisation. According to her, Egypt was the first nation in the world to attain ‘civilization’ because of their methods of teaching, and enforcement of acceptable patterns of behaviour. “A disciplined nation, with principled values, can assist to bring about a well-developed and civilized people. It is the duty of society, and all respectable bodies/organisation and institutions to help inculcate the attitude of discipline in its peoples,” she wrote.

Selby’s writing on indiscipline makes a case that Africans are in need of leaders who will, through their elongated tenures, institute discipline. This was arguably the case in Libya before the death of Muammar Gaddaffi, who ruled for 42 years (1969 – 2011) and implemented uniform behavioral norms among Libyans. It was during Gaddaffi’s regime that people’s committees were introduced in the country, as a way of enforcing the concept of direct democracy. The people’s committees were instituted by Gaddaffi to replace traditional authority, before the late 70’s, the people’s committees had heavily saturated the country and silenced Gaddaffi’s opposition.   

The institution of the people’s committees allowed civilians in Libya to have a voice in the decision making process regarding issues affecting them.   

“Unlike in the West, Libyans did not vote once every four years for a President and local parliamentarian who would then make all decisions for them. Ordinary Libyans made decisions regarding foreign, domestic, and economic policy themselves,” writes Garikai Chengu in a 2013 piece for Foreign Policy Journal

Since Gaddaffi’s death in 2011, many have suggested  that the country was better left in the hands of Gaddafi. One of Gaddafi’s major achievements was his refusal to have oil dealings with the United States of America, thereby promoting autonomy and propagating the idea that he could do without the US, much like Mugabe’s ideology on the Western world.

However, many still view sit-tight leaders as unnecessary and bad for the countries they rule due to the fact that it keeps power in the same hands for too long.

For example, Mfonobong Nsehe, a contributor at Forbes wrote on five of Africa’s worst leaders. Robert Mugabe happened to be a part of that list and the writer blamed the lack of employment in Zimbabwe on Mugabe’s refusal to address the issue. Today, Mugabe is still president and hopes to contest in Zimbabwe’s 2017 presidential elections.

Mugabe and his supporters are not bothered by media portrayal of Zimbabwe’s president as a life president, having ruled for more than 20 years. In November 2015, Grace Mugabe suggested that her husband, Robert will rule Zimbabwe from a special wheelchair until he is 100 years old.

Robert Mugabe considers himself a hero to his people and isn’t afraid to say so. However, in the last 29 years, Mugabe’s policies have led Zimbabweans into economic distress. For instance in terms of currency, the Zimbabwean Dollar, which has been in active use for the past 40 years was recently dumped in favor of the Chinese Yuan.

Although the hyperinflation rate at a 500 percent loss, which collapsed the Zimbabwean dollar started in 2008, many suggest that Mugabe ran the country’s economy down through the 2008 indigenisation law that requires foreign business owners to sell 51 percent of their shares to locals. Foreign investors have expressed reluctance to invest in Zimbabwe because of this law. However, Zimbabwe’s finance ministry recently announced the government’s decision to reduce the 51 percent in order to attract foreign investors.     

However in spite of his questionable policy direction, throughout the continent, Robert Mugabe has become infamous, seen as a hero of sorts, the type of leader that disregards foreign aid and would rather build on what his people have so they can enjoy economic freedom. Even the Western media does not begrudge that particular quality about Mugabe. 

2013 article from UK based Guardian notes, “Mugabe is more than just a politician, he leads a cause, or as his militant supporters would say, he has become the cause itself. And the cause has something to do with giving back the African his dignity well beyond symbols of nominal independence.”

Regardless of how leaders like Mugabe are viewed by the people and the media, we need to consider the nuances of when there are certain advantages to having one leader rule a country for several years. 

Let’s look at history. Prior to the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1951, and it set term limits to the presidency of two terms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president for 12 years (1933 to 1945). During that time, he was responsible for many policy implementations that changed America. For instance, he reduced unemployment from 25 percent to 2 percent through the the ‘New Deal’, which were the ‘Bank Holiday Act’, ‘Emergency Bank Act’ which formed the FDIC, ‘Economy Act’ and the ‘Farm Programs’ which led to the development of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. They all contributed to improving America’s economy during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Also, during Roosevelt’s tenure, the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was established. NIRA improved working standards for Americans and also created the minimum wage for workers. Also, Roosevelt developed the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ withdrawing American forces from Latin American countries in the 1930’s and choosing to respect their sovereignty.

Now, let’s consider the present. Al Jazeera reported on the first of January 2016 that following Rwanda’s constitutional referendum, President Kagame decided to run for a third term. According to Al Jazeera, Rwandan Senate head Bernard Makuza has said that Kagame, whose current term ends in 2017, could run for another seven-year term and then two five-year terms, possibly keeping him in power until 2034.

Although Kagame, who was leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) during the 1994 Genocide has been accused of human rights abuses and intolerance for opposition, he is credited with several achievements that indicate he cares about the well-being of Rwandans. In 2009, Bill Clinton expressed his admiration for Kagame, citing his successes in stabilizing Rwanda post-genocide.

“The great victory of Rwanda was a victory of the mind and the spirit. And Paul Kagame freed the hearts and minds of his people to think about the future,” Clinton said.

Perhaps, sit-tight leaders like the late Gaddaffi are needed to a reasonable extent. For instance, Libya, post-Gaddafi, has become mired in terror activities. In 2015, Ahmad Barqawi argued that Gaddafi foresaw Libya in its current state, controlled by ISIS militants but during his lifetime, the rest of the world laughed at his attempt to keep his position and keep his country safe from the rebels.

“Gaddafi knew what he was talking about; right from the get-go, he accused the so-called Libyan rebels of being influenced by Al-Qaeda ideology and Ben Laden’s school of thought; no one had taken his word for it of course, not even a little bit,” he wrote.

While a leader like Mugabe has been blamed for the economic challenges Zimbabwe is facing, it seems that under Paul Kagame’s rule, Rwanda has experienced stability in terms of economic freedom. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, over the past five years, economic freedom in Rwanda has advanced by 2.1 points, led by 20-point and 15-point improvements in freedom from corruption and investment freedom, respectively.

But curbing indiscipline through sit tight leadership only really works, when those leading are doing just that, practicing what they preach. A 2005 journal from the Obafemi Awolowo University on Sit tight Politics underscores that prevalent sit tight leadership can only change when the narrative changes from selfishness of ‘leaders’ to service to the governed. “Sit tight leadership transforms the idea of political leadership ‘service to humanity’ to self gratification. The huge benefits of ‘profit’ that may be derived is a prime etiologic basis of the sit-tight political adventures.” Sounds about right.

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