Thursday, April 12, 2012

Kamuzu Banda's State Visit To Zimbabwe

Like many Zimbabweans, both at home and in the diaspora, I've spent the last three hours or so eagerly following President Mugabe's much-anticipated return from Singapore. I've been following the blow-by-blow accounts on Twitter and in Zimbabwe's media-sphere. This brouhaha surrounding President Mugabe's return has been surreal; almost like the 3rd coming of Christ! In its strangeness, I was immediately taken back over two decades ago to the surreal drama that surrounded the visit to Zimbabwe of Malawi's octogenarian President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. 

Prior to his touchdown, protocol officers were already working behind the scenes to ensure that the trip went smoothly. Now, here's where things started to take a bizarre turn. Zim Govt officials working on the visit slipped out the information that Ngwazi -- as Kamuzu Banda was titled -- had some strict demands that needed to be met. First of all, he insisted that his convoy of motor-vehicles be larger than that of our President, Robert Mugabe. Secondly he insisted that the welcoming coterie of dancers from the Womens' League should have his photo on their brightly-covered outfits and not that of our President. A tall order, I would say! Even authoritarian regimes in one-party states would have had trouble meeting the demands of the Ngwazi. 

When Kamuzu Banda did land in Harare, he did get the extra long convoy of cars, but his other request was fudged and fiddled with. And there he was: almost ninety years old; doddering and senile; spitting into a spittoon; with his nurse/hostess/paramour (Mama Cecilia Kadzamira) constantly by his side. Throughout all of this drama our President, Robert Mugabe, kept a wry smile while the protocol-officers kept a straight face. But all was not well, and everyone could see it. We Zimbabweans wondered out aloud, how a President who was close to ninety and worse for the wear was still hanging onto power. How could this be? 

Well, little did we know that over two decades later, many Zimbabweans would be forced to ask the same questions about our very own leader, as he himself disembarked on a plane from Singapore. How can a leader who is close to ninety and obviously worse for the wear still obstinately cling onto political power? How can this be? They say that history repeats itself first as tragedy, and then as farce. I can confirm that.

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