Both Robert Mugabe and Paul Kagame are celebrated freedom fighters who gallantly fought their way to leadership of their respective countries after protracted wars.
Sunday Opinion with Farai WT Taderera
Mugabe left home for Mozambique to join the liberation war against colonial rule while Kagame started as a high-ranking officer in the Ugandan Army before he left to lead the Rwandan Patriotic Front on its assault against the French-supported Hutu government of his homeland.
The post-genocide transitional government of national unity of Rwanda took office in 1994 headed by Pasteur Bizumungu as president, but only responsible for home affairs, while Kagame was the defacto ruler as both vice-president and minister of defence, with an added responsibility of foreign affairs.
Later on in the late 1990s Kagame began to publicly disagree with Bizumungu, accusing him of mismanagement and corruption so much that the president resigned and the Supreme Court appointed Kagame as the Acting-President. He proceeded to appoint a commission which drafted a new constitution that was approved by referendum in May 2003.
Among its many laws, the new constitution also sought to prevent Hutu or Tutsi hegemony over political power by prohibiting the formation of political parties along any tribal or ethnic lines.
It is this law that Kagame used to silence opposition in his efforts to preserve unity. For example, the Democratic Republic Movement (MDR), the second largest party after the RPF in the transitional government, was banned after it was found guilty of spreading divisive ideology by a parliamentary commission.
Bizumungu, who had gone on to form an opposition political party which was hounded out of existence, was later arrested and only released by presidential pardon in 2007.
Kagame was elected for his first seven-year term as President in August 1993 according to the new constitution, after silencing and/or co-opting members of the opposition into the RPF.
Currently serving his final second term, allegations abound of his crack teams in pursuit of opposition elements who flee for safety to neighbouring countries in the region.
Kagame appears in no hurry to retire as he scoffs at critics when asked whether he will change the constitution in order to run for a third term. He insists that countries should be left to decide their own destinies and that he was not elected to leave office, but to do business on behalf of the Rwandans.
Mugabe came to power as Prime Minister in 1980 and seven years later, amended the constitution to make himself President.
In pursuance of his quest to create a one-party state, he coerced the only opposition then, Zapu, into his Zanu PF party; a process that was never really consummated at grassroots level despite the official rhetoric and the cosmetic appearance of unity.
Since then general elections have been religiously held, with the outcome always in his favour, especially from the year 2000 with the advent of formidable opposition from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai.
Any talk of regime change is viewed as treasonous despite the fact that, that is what elections are all about; a process to challenge the ruling party and replace it with another through the will of the majority.
The war in the DRC
The two were protagonists on either side of the Congo War where Kagame fought to topple Laurent Desire Kabila while Mugabe defended the Congolese leader.
Human Rights groups and other independent organisations have accused both parties of plundering the host country’s mineral wealth.
Rwanda’s economy is alleged to have directly benefitted, with reports of the creation of the so-called Congo Desk where mining companies were allegedly taxed and minerals sold for the benefit of Rwanda. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is reported that only senior army and government officials personally benefitted from the plunder.
On the economy
Shortly after assuming the Presidency, Kagame launched Vision 2020, an ambitious economic development programme consisting of a list of projects for the government to transform the highly impoverished agro-based economy into a middle income country before the year 2020.
As a result, annual economic growth averaged 8%, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita increased from US$567 in 2000 to US$1 592 in 2013.
With 90% of the population in agriculture, Vision 2020 has resulted in the service sector alone contributing 43,6% of GDP while tourism is the leading foreign exchange earner with 16% of visitors being from outside Africa.
On the business front, the Rwanda Development Board asserts that a business can be authorised and registered in 24 hours; hence the country ranks 52 out of 185 countries in the world and three out of 46 in sub-Saharan Africa for its overall ease of doing business.
Transparency International ranks it eight out of 47 in sub-Sahara and 66 out of 178 in the world on its corruption index.
On the contrary, Zimbabwe has embarked upon so many economic blueprints, including a Vision 2020 of its own, and even the latest, Zim Asset which is still to be launched with all its attendant shortcomings; this is more than six months after the last elections.
Average annual income has reduced drastically from US$950 in 1980 to below US$400 by the year 2003. One of the earliest development projects, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), was abandoned midstream.
Even the Land Reform Programme with all its lack of planning, shortcomings and haphazard launch, is still heralded as a monumental success notwithstanding the glaring evidence of food shortages and economic decline.
On a 2010 list of the top 10 countries in the world led by Liberia and Mongolia, Transparency International rated Zimbabwe as the fourth most corrupt.
The two men believe they have the divine right to rule until “they have accomplished their tasks”.
Mugabe will not lift a finger to create the right atmosphere for investment and development of Zimbabwe.
Instead, he looks at such initiatives from a political standpoint; any economic development that takes place must recognise his unfettered rule and comply with programmes that perpetuate his political life.
He has made it known that he is not going anywhere any time soon as he reserves the right to stand again in 2018.
Kagame on the other hand believes that he is the only one who knows what is good for the people of Rwanda and he has the credentials to prove his point, namely a thriving economy.
He does not see why he should step down if he is delivering for his people.
The people in turn do appreciate what he has done for them, but believe that at the end of the day, democracy must prevail and he should accordingly pass the baton when his second and final term expires in 2017.