Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Why is anyone surprised?

Oh dear, he's done it again. Mr Mugabe is restored as the unchallenged leader of Zimbabwe.

He will tell us that the decision of his only opponent to withdraw from the run-off Presidential election is a result of internal pressures within the opposition party which caused them to erupt in a frenzy of internecine violence. He will also tell us that the freedom fighters loyal to his benevolent rule did everything they could to prevent the massacre, but there is only so much that
civilised people can do when the barbarians turn on each other. To ensure there is no repetition Mr Mugabe will inform us that he has, against every instinct in his body, accepted advice that yet further restrictions on political activity must be introduced and the sentences for engaging in such activity must be increased.

It is such a familiar tale. Totalitarian rule has a habit of following the same pattern wherever it exists and whatever the political ideology espoused by the ruling elite. Be it Idi Amin, Dr Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, Nicolae Ceausescu, Ceausescu's great hero Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro or any of the other totalitarian leaders who have blighted the world in my lifetime exactly the same thing has happened.

The exercise has five stages. The necessary preconditions are that a country must be in a dire mess and that there is general support for the idea that the mess needs to be sorted out.

Stage one is to identify the person who will solve the mess. Usually a charismatic leader will emerge saying all the right things. Those things are always the same. To start with a villain is identified on whom all blame is placed for the mess. That villain might be a previous indiginous political leader, a former colonial power or another country which appears to be a threat. It matters not who or what the villain is, that there is an identified "enemy of the people" is enough. Once the villain has been identified as the source of all ills, our hero needs to identify himself as the source of all cures. This is always done by announcing that he will give power to the people and free them from the yoke of oppression. Cheers all round, prosperity is guaranteed, praise our hero and pass the cheesecake.

Stage two comes when our hero is first in office. The oratory that has carried him there has persuaded the people that the slate has been wiped clean, all nastiness is over and a whole new structure will be put in place. Once our hero is in place he has to face the reality of the mess. He realises he must tell the people that the slate has not been wiped clean because the mess has not disappeared with the vanquishing of the villain. To say such a thing would be to undermine a central plank of the message that got him to power, so he cannot possibly say that. What he must say is that the mess is far worse than even he imagined in his most horrendous nightmares. It is all the villain's fault, but our hero must take radical measures to put things right. For the only time in his political career our hero admits a mistake - "I was mistaken in believing that the villain had left some parts of our great country unsullied by his evilness." The people accept what our hero has said because he is their hope for salvation and they are delighted that their new leader is a humble man who can accept he made a mistake and has the honour to apologise. Again there are cheers all round because prosperity is guaranteed, our hero is praised.

Stage three requires our hero to take wide-ranging powers so that his special wisdom can undo the harm inflicted by the villain. Because our hero is but a humble servant of the people, all such powers involve the return of power to the people "We have today taken the first necessary steps by returning to you the power to run the economy. All banks have been nationalised. No longer are they owned and run by private profiteers, now they are owned and run by you." This time the cheers are deafening, "glory be" says Mr Serf "I control the banks". Stage three includes many more measures to take the control of activities into The State's hands. The people are relieved that, for the first time in their memory, such activities are in safe hands.

Stage four arrives when our hero finds that his ministers are not solving all the country's ills. A crop failure has occurred, this is not what our hero promised but our hero is always right so the Minister for Agriculture must be to blame. A major speech is now made by our hero. This time there is no apology for appointing the wrong man to the job. Our hero appointed the right man on the information available, but that information was faulty because the Minister deceived our hero about his credentials. This is an exceptional event, never before experienced in the new and glorious history of our recently-freed great nation. The Minister has been relieved of his duties and will face prosecution. A condign punishment will be sought. This exercise is repeated ministry-by-ministry. Unrest starts and our hero must re-assert his authority to ensure there is no repetition of such dismal failures. Our hero has been persuaded, against every instinct in his body, that only he has the wisdom and foresight to overcome the problems caused by the duplicitous traitors who lined their pockets with ministerial salaries on the back of our hero's benevolent greatness. All ministries are brought under direct Presidential control because only in that way can the people be assured that they have control.

Stage five is an inevitable consequence of stage four. When further problems arise there is a risk that our hero will be blamed directly by the people. This is not right because he is the saviour of the people, he is the people. The laying of blame at the door of our hero must be prevented. From his point of view there is nothing wrong with this because he is the people, criticism of him is criticism of everyone and it is entirely wrong and trecherous to criticise the fine people of the nation. Political dissent is treason and must be prevented. The more the criticism, the more extreme the means required to stifle it.

And so we have it. Totalitarian rule in a nutshell. Details differ for each totalitarian regime, but the pattern and the result are always the same. Once Stage Five is reached it is never long before our hero is ousted. Mugabe is in that position today. We can hope that the replacement is not another totalitarian nutcase, I'm not holding my breath.

No comments: