‘Déjà vu’ in Zimbabwe
In 1981, flush with a supposedly fresh mandate after a fraudulent presidential election that saw him pitted against an obscure opponent named Alejo Santos, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos held a lavish inaugural in which a choir of a thousand voices sang Handel’s “Messiah.” At one point the choir chanted: “And He shall reign forever and ever.”
Marcos, his wife Imelda and their sprawling court of cronies and flatterers were celebrating what seemed like the eternal summer of the strongman’s reign.
It was nine years after Marcos imposed martial law on the country, and his rule was unchallenged. The entire country was under his grip; the economy and industries were run by his friends and/or dummies, likewise the press, the judiciary and the rubber-stamp Interim Batasang Pambansa.
Imelda was unstoppable in her by-now-legendary building and shopping sprees.
Their opponents had been jailed, killed, or coopted. A year earlier, Marcos’ most formidable rival, Ninoy Aquino, suffering from a heart ailment, was released from prison and effectively banished to the United States, where it was thought heart surgery would sideline him for good.
It appeared Marcos would reign forever indeed.
And yet there they were a mere five years later, scurrying like panicked rats into the belly of a US helicopter — Marcos a sick, shrunken man on a wheelchair fleeing Malacañang with his family in the dead of night to escape the wrath of a citizenry that had had enough of their abuse and extravagance.
It was a spectacular fall, and no matter how his reinvigorated supporters insist on an alternative narrative nowadays, the ignominy of Marcos’ rejection by his people in a popular revolution is an incontrovertible fact that will not be written off the history books.
Filipinos who lived through that historic time will feel a twinge of familiarity with what’s going on with the citizens of Zimbabwe, who have just seen their own dictator, Robert Mugabe, ousted from power after what seemed like an eternity of one-man rule — 37 years.
Per wire reports, “Zimbabweans have experienced a historic week in which the military seized power and put Mugabe under house arrest in response to his sacking of vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, chief rival of Mugabe’s powerful 52-year-old wife Grace.
“On Saturday, in scenes of public euphoria not seen since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, huge crowds marched and sang their way through Harare and other cities. The demonstrations included citizens of all ages, jubilant that Mugabe appeared to be on his way out… In central Harare, a group of young men tore down a green metal street sign bearing Robert Mugabe’s name and smashed it repeatedly on the road.”
Surely Mugabe and his Imeldific wife Grace also thought they were invincible in power. Mugabe is 93 years old, by this time the world’s oldest serving head of state, and still he refused to let go of the authoritarian hand he had brutally wielded over his country since its independence in 1980.
Like Marcos whose depredations ran the Philippines to the ground, Mugabe’s unchecked rule transformed Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), once one of Africa’s wealthiest and most progressive countries, into a grim basket case “defined by violent suppression, economic collapse and international isolation,” according to Agence France-Presse.
But, like all things, that illusion of perpetual power also came crashing down one day. Mugabe is now reduced to the humiliating position of negotiating a graceful exit with his military captors, while his wife, nicknamed “Gucci Grace” by the populace, has reportedly sought refuge in Namibia.
Haiti’s Duvalier. Romania’s Ceausescu. Egypt’s Mubarak. Libya’s Gadhafi. The Philippines’ Marcos. Zimbabwe’s Mugabe. And so on. Dictators and strongmen wannabes everywhere should heed a true and terrible lesson: No one reigns forever, and the time for accountability will inevitably come.
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