When it comes to Mugabe anything goes


When it comes to reporting on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, it appears, all the rules about good journalism can be broken. Even serious magazines like Newsweek, once one of the best in the world, flout rules about good journalism, like accuracy or fact-checking.

Foreign Policy, for example, reported last month that African presidents bent on clinging to power had found a new way of doing so legitimately by changing their constitutions.

“Africa’s longest-serving leaders are prime examples of this trend,” it reported in an article written by Anneke van Woudenberg, deputy director, Africa Division of Human Rights Watch and Ida Sawyer, Senior Researcher, Democratic Republic of Congo for the same organisation.

“Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe — all in power for more than 35 years — have altered their constitutions in order to remain in office,” it goes on.

“In all three countries, there is little or no free press, and opposition parties are routinely prevented from organizing demonstrations. Those who tried to oppose their efforts to stay in power were brutally silenced.”

Newsweek, today, in an article entitled: Africa’s Third-Term Problem: Why Leaders Keep Clinging to Power, quoted the Foreign Policy story about Mugabe being one of the African leaders who amended the constitution to stay in power, yet this is not true.

Indeed, Mugabe has been in power for 35 years, first as Prime Minister for seven years and then as president. But Zimbabwe never amended its constitution to let Mugabe remain in power. The country simply had no presidential term limit until the new constitution that was adopted in 2013.

A new constitution that was drafted in 1999 and was brought before a referendum in 2000 was rejected by the voters after an intensive campaign by the National Constitutional Assembly and the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change. That constitution provided for a presidential term limit but it was rejected because it was argued then that it favoured Mugabe.

Had Zimbabwe adopted that constitution Mugabe would have left the scene by 2010. If he insisted on serving his term which expired in 2002, he would have departed by 2012. Instead, the country wasted 13 years only to adopt a constitution with a two-term presidential limit.

This allowed Mugabe to legally remain in power until 2023, God allowing. It is distortions about Zimbabwe and Mugabe that help him to cling on to power.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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