President Robert Mugabe inspects a military guard of honour in 2011. His hold on Zimbabwe collapsed as the military turned against him in 2017, leading to his ouster / Photo: IRIN

Obasanjo, other African leaders pay tribute to Mugabe

African leaders have been paying tribute to Robert Mugabe, who died in the early hours of Friday. His 37-year-rule in Zimbabwe made him one of the continent’s longest-serving leaders.

Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, on Friday, described the death of Mugabe as a “big loss”.

Zimbabwe president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, had announced that Mugabe, 95, died in Singapore. He described his predecessor as “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten”.

Obasanjo, in a condolence letter made available to journalists by his Special Assistant on Media, described Mugabe as one of the greatest African freedom fighters, who he said had contributed in no small measure to the liberation of Zimbabwe from apartheid and oppressive racialism.

“Mugabe was a statesman per excellence and a tireless advocate of the preservation of the mystique of Africa’s moral and cultural values, who had selflessly dedicated himself to public service for most of his life, particularly as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980-1987 and also as President from 1987-2017,” the letter reads .

“Having followed with keen interest his heroic struggles to secure an independent Zimbabwe in 1980, President Mugabe had become much more than a leader of his people. He had become the living symbol and embodiment of their long and valiant struggle for their rightful place in the comity of nations.”

According to Obasanjo, Zimbabwe witnessed “significant efforts at placing the command of Zimbabwean economy in the hands of Zimbabweans,” under the administration of Mugabe.

Nigeria’s current president Muhammadu Buhari, meanwhile, said Robert Mugabe was “a man who lived most of his life in public service”.

In Kenya, the flag is to be flown at half-mast on all public buildings, military posts and naval centres from Saturday until sunset on Monday. President Uhuru Kenyatta called Mugabe “a freedom fighter and a pan-Africanist who played a major role in shaping the interests of the African continent”.

“Africa has lost one of its courageous leaders, who resisted colonisation through actions,” Tanzania’s President John Magufuli tweeted.

“Worthy son of Africa,” is how the former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, described Mugabe, who in 1998 sent troops to back Kabila’s father, Laurent, who was trying to repel rebel forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

Analysts are divided on the legacy of Mugabe, whose later years in power were marked by economic collapse, impoverishment of Zimbabweans and human rights violation. While many recognise his role in the decolonisation of Southern Africa, others criticise him for staying too long in power even when he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of his people.

Raphael Adenaike

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