HARARE – U.S President Barack Obama has lambasted President Robert Mugabe for clinging on to power and blamed “bad governance” for the country’s economic downfall.
Speaking in Johannesburg on Saturday, Obama said long-serving presidents must take a cue from anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela who assumed the leadership of his nation after doing 27 years in prison and then stepped down after one term in office.
Obama, America’s first black president, said bad governance has run down Zimbabwe and said leaders must learn to pass the baton.
Obama insinuated that rotating leadership can fix Zimbabwe.
“What Nelson Mandela also stood for is the recognition in that the well-being of a country is more important than the interest of any one person, and one of the reasons that George Washington is our most admired president is because after two terms, he said, ‘enough I’m going back to being a citizen’,” Obama told a joint press conference with Zuma in Pretoria.
Washington, who was the first president of the United States, served two terms and declined to serve a third.
“If you look at US history, there was no rule at the time in the constitution, there was no term limit and he was popular; he could have easily been president of the United States for life but he said. ‘I’m a citizen, I served my time, I engaged my service and it’s time for the next person because that is what democracy is about’,” Obama said.
“And Nelson Mandela, similarly, I think was able to recognise despite how revered he was, that part of this transition process was to make sure that it was bigger than just one person even one of the greatest people in history. What an incredible lesson that is.”
Trained as a teacher, Mugabe spent 11 years as a political prisoner under Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government and rose to lead Zanu PF and was one of the key negotiators in the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, which led to the creation of a fully democratic Zimbabwe that critics say Mugabe has wrecked through economic mismanagement.
“If you look at Zimbabwe, it used to be one of the wealthiest countries on the content and bad governance has led to an economic disaster,” Obama said during the three-day visit to South Africa.
“It’s now starting to come back and thanks to the work of people like President Zuma, there is an opportunity now to move to a new phase where perhaps Zimbabwe can finally achieve all its promise.
“But that requires fair and free elections and it requires those currently in power in Zimbabwe to recognise that the interests of all people have to be served first.”
South African President Jacob Zuma was appointed to mediate in the Zimbabwe crisis by regional grouping Sadc, after formation of a unity government in 2009 to end an impasse over disputed elections, which has managed to stabilise the economy after 10 years of contraction.
Obama’s statement is a throwback to remarks by Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, who in 1980 coined Zimbabwe the “jewel of Africa” and admonished the then 56-year-old rebel leader Mugabe to “take good care of it.”
Nyerere died in 1999. A year later Mugabe, a self-proclaimed Marxist, began expropriating land from Zimbabwe’s white farmers.
Since then, the former Rhodesia, once a paradise for safari vacationers and hunting tourists, has been transformed into a scene of devastation.