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David Waywell provides an alternative take on one of the week’s lesser-reported stories.

Light Relief

Great news this week if you’re a fan of souped-up African dictatorships with go-faster stripes.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s family have let the world know that the President is still very much in charge and intends to remain so for the foreseeable future. Dr Grace Mugabe (50) says that Bob (94) will be around for quite a few more years. ‘We are going to create a special wheelchair for President Mugabe until he rules to 100 years, because that is what we want,’ she said. No doubt they’ve pencilled in ‘100’ as the bare minimum they expect from the new pimped-up President. With the proper batteries and a good set of slick Dunlops, there’s no reason why they couldn’t get another century out of the Father of African Democratic Totalitarianism. And for some of that time, he might even be breathing.


There is, of course, a fine history of keeping dictators around long past their expiry dates. Lenin’s body still lies beneath the Kremlin or, at least, the whiskery bits do. The flesh has been gradually replaced by plastics and other secret Pollyfillas used by the embalmers who have only tried to keep the original hair. Meanwhile, in Hanoi, the chilled remains of Ho Chi Minh are watched over by an honour guard in case his condition shows any signs of improvement. Not to be outdone in humanitarianism, North Korea has put their last Kim on ice. In 2012, the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun was reopened so that the public can go visit the remains of Kim Jong-il and, frankly, who wouldn’t want to enjoy what is a perfect day out for the entire family?

You might have noticed that democratically elected politicians tend not to get the embalming treatment, with the exception of Boris Yeltsin who was technically pickled long before he left office. Rather, the habit of democracies tends to be that of hurrying a leader out the door once they’ve outlived their usefulness. In the case of King George V, it is said that he was euthanized with an injection of morphine and cocaine, so that his death could be announced in the morning papers rather than the evening editions.

In the case of dictators, their families have every reason to keep them around. Notice that Dr. Mugabe said ‘that is what we want’ rather than ‘what Bob wants’. And that’s because the physical being of any dictator is imbued with certain power. It takes a special kind of man or woman (but usually man) to dominate a nation’s politics for generations at a time. To keep a lid on democracy is a rare talent that blesses only a few but, then, to have that merciless determination to impose your will on millions requires a most unusual conjunction of ambition, ego, as well as a few sociopathic tendencies to help ease that tiniest of consciences. It shouldn’t surprise us that in a world of billions, there are only a handful able to assume the role of dictator.

To control the dictator, if only in body, is to hold a spell over a nation. After the Second World War the Russians rushed to claim possession of Hitler’s remains. Parts of his skull and jawbone have been in their state archive for decades, but their existence has only recently come to light. For a time, Soviet authorities used doubts about Hitler’s  death as a means of sewing confusion in the West.

In Mugabe’s case, controlling the body of the tyrant is to show continuity. Since 1987 he has overseen Zimbabwe’s rapid rise to become second least corrupt nations on the planet. That is, so long as we limit ourselves to counting only those nations that begin with the letter ‘z’. Zambia is currently positioned seventy one places above it. To Zimbabwe’s credit, it is currently less corrupt than Burundi, Syria, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Venezuela, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Sudan, North Korea, and Somali.

It’s hard to imagine any of this changing with the Mugabe family already managing his legacy. His wife is a highly educated academic, who gained her PhD in sociology from the University of Zimbabwe after two long months of study in 2014 (a PhD normally takes between four and seven years). Thankfully, she could still see lots of Bob at the time since he was the university’s chancellor who presented her with her doctorate. With her new plan to put wheels on Bob, it’s clear that she’s used that keen academic training to think this through. Once he gets his new wheels, Mugable will be to democracy what Lewis Hamilton is to understatement.

Bob Mugabe will celebrate his double centenary as President of Zimbabwe on 22 December 2187. Watch out of more details on The What and The Why closer to the event.

David Waywell writes and cartoons at The Spine.


10 Comments on "Mugabe on Wheels"

  1. He could get stuffed and remain in power forever!

    • Precisely my point, Lesley. Get a set of wheels on him and there’ll be nothing to stop him! 😉

      • Perhaps he heard Splatter…sorry Blatter say he heard the angels singing and saw the burning fire of hell, when he had his little trip out of this world recently…no wonder he jumped back quickly! I think he knew which way the wind was blowing!

        • Ha! I’m laughing but that’s a horrible image. Blatter naked as the flames lick his body for an eternity. Hotter than playing football in Qatar…

          • Lesley Lubert | 25th November 2015 at 7:50 pm |

            Don’t think he will make it to Qatar…shame after all the hard work he put in to get the spondoolies, still we have to go when our boat is called in. Some people of course are hard of hearing!

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 25th November 2015 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    Thank you David for an entertaining piece.
    This ancient tyrant must have accumulated a vast wealth of experience in the art of murdering his political opponents and surviving so long. If he resigns or retires at a future date, he should consider a 2nd career either as a clapped out TV pundit specializing in African affairs, or a consultant in the field of responsible rule and good governance. How to rule an African country without even trying, how to achieve the highest degree of corruption and incompetence and yet win the election by a massive majority without rigging the votes. Just stick to the manifesto and stand on your unblemished track record of atrocities, the confiscation of profitable productive farms and bankrupting the country. You will certainly develop deep friendships with the IMF and Oxfam who will come to the rescue. By turning tobacco farms into arid deserts, Mugabe saved the human race from tobacco-related cancers. Mugabe’s wife will be acting as an education advisor providing information on how to get a Phd without reading a single page in a book. Just remember the colour of the book cover, so when asked what book did she read recently? She could easily answer “I read a book once, pause a few seconds then say: if I recall right, green it was”.

    • I know. Astonishing how one guy could destroy a country but, also, how he could be allowed to destroy it whilst blaming others for his own failures.

      • It amazes me how one man can have such power over a whole country. Wouldn’t you think someone could slip him a Micky Finn…full strength. Just proves how fear is stronger than hope and belief.

        • There I think you put your finger on the very important point. People willing to slip him a Micky Finn are not easy to come by and/or they too would possess a psychology that would lead them to become a new dictator. I think Mugabe’s reign shows us all how dictatorships are not inherently fragile. Dictatorships are hard to escape or destroy and it’s democracy that’s really hard to maintain. Look at Putin in Russia. He controls the media and controls what people hear and therefore think. It’s a democracy in name only. But, if we are going to be very cynical, how many people live in a true democracy given that the media pretty much governs our tastes and opinions? How many people would really understand the symbolism of John McDonnell standing up in the House of Commons today waving Mao’s Little Red Book? And how many people will think it’s wrong because they’re told it was wrong?

          • Lesley Lubert | 25th November 2015 at 7:58 pm |

            I have always been a thinker and question much of what I see, probably too much time spent in court where 50% of the people are telling fibs! Seeing is not always believing. I agree about true democracy. We do not have it in the UK either…One vote is worth more for some political parties than others…how can that be. We are governed by a party most of us didn’t even vote for. Cameron is very keen on driving home that we have all voted for his policies…really…when did that happen!

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