Why Robin Cook’s ghost is smiling

Why Robin Cook’s ghost is smiling
  • PublishedJanuary 11, 2018

It was painful to see Robert Mugabe, perhaps the last of Africa’s great freedom fighters, hounded out of office with crowds cheering his fall. It was reminiscent of the fall of Ghana’s Nkrumah. But what was the invisible hand that helped topple them? By Baffour Ankomah

There is a tendency to use current wrongs to obliterate past good. That is what has just happened in Zimbabwe where the good, in fact the many good things, that President Robert Mugabe did is being erased by the current wrongs he has done. But that will not wash no matter what William Shakespeare insisted, as history cannot be washed away just like that.

Yes, he hung on for far too long. For a man who decided in 2007 to step down and allow a successor to run for the 2008 elections, it was a massive psychological change to still be wanting to run for office in 2018. Yes, he should not have allowed his wife the latitude she had to mess up everything for him and all those who had stood with him.

It was a painful sight, very hurtful, to see the dignified old revolutionary going out in so undignified a way – hounded, caged, tricked, harassed, insulted, and even taken advantage of by the men and women he had brought up as soldiers, officials, and citizens. And the wild jubilation at the end of it all. It shouldn’t have come to this. Young wives may be good to look at, but they have lessons to teach.

But let’s look at some hard facts that got lost in the din of the international coverage of Mugabe’s downfall. He was painted as a dictator and a tyrant who did not know how to run an economy. Really? He must have been a special dictator and tyrant indeed, because we have all known dictators and tyrants in our lifetime and Mugabe is nowhere in their league!

But let’s concentrate on economic management for now. On 30 November 2007, I was in Harare to cover the million-man march organised by the Zanu-PF Youth League in solidarity with Mugabe. Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans had descended on their capital city from all over the country to join the march. They were jubilant, dancing, singing and stamping their feet.

The march started from the Harare city centre and wound its way to the historic Zimbabwe Grounds in the suburb of Highfields, where Mugabe had made his first speech when he returned from Mozambique on 27 January 1980, at the end of the guerrilla war that was about to free the country from colonial rule. 

Twenty-seven years on, the throngs were back at the Zimbabwe Grounds, ready to hear the same man who had captured their imagination on 27 January 1980. Amid the din of this great sea of human faces, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister, Stanley Mudenge (affectionately called Stan by his admirers), bumped into me.

In the heady days of 2000-2001, when Zimbabwe’s land reform programme was a subject of great controversy in Western capitals, I had covered the affairs of Zimbabwe’s delegations to London, led by Stan Mudenge.


Robin Cook’s prediction

On this momentous day, 30 November 2007, Stan pulled me aside to a corner of the Zimbabwean Grounds where we could hear ourselves above the din of the commotion caused by the march. A great historian, Stan reminisced about the escapades of 2000-2001, and told me: “In one of our meetings with the British government in London, Robin Cook [who was foreign secretary under Prime Minister Tony Blair] pulled me aside and told me: ‘Stan, you guys must get rid of Bob.’” Bob is the moniker for Robert Mugabe.

Stan said he pretended as if he had not heard what Cook had said, so he asked him: “What did you just say?” Cook replied: “You heard me right. I said you guys must get rid of Bob.” Stan said he told Cook: “We can’t get rid of Bob. As much as you guys want him out, we want him in.” At this point, Stan said Cook looked at him hard in the eye and told him point-blank: “Well, don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you guys don’t get rid of Bob, what will hit you will make your people stone you in the streets.”

Stan said he came back home and reported Cook’s massively threatening words to Mugabe and his cabinet. On 21 November 2017 – a good 17 years after Robin Cook’s warning – the “stoning” of Robert Mugabe by the people of Zimbabwe finally came to pass when the president of 37 years resigned as impeachment proceedings against him were in full swing in parliament.


Comparison with Nkrumah

The wild jubilation that greeted Mugabe’s fall was reminiscent of the  joy that greeted the fall of Ghana’s first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, on 24 February 1966. The fates of the two men appear to have been intertwined. Nkrumah, the older man and much larger in his pan-African ideals and work, captured the imagination of the younger Mugabe when he went to live in Ghana between 1958 and 1960.

When Mugabe returned home and won independence for Zimbabwe in 1980, he appropriated much of Nkrumah’s ideals and symbols. For example, Mugabe organised Zanu on the same lines as Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP). The CPP’s colours became Zanu’s colours. The CPP’s red cockerel symbol became Zanu’s red cockerel symbol. The CPP’s Youth League and Women’s League became Zanu’s Youth League and Women’s League. Even Nkrumah’s socialist ideas became Mugabe’s socialist ideas.

In 1997, after 25 years of denial by the Western world, The Times of London conceded in a leader comment that “Nkrumah was brought low by the cocoa price”. That was a an admission forced out of The Times following the lies and insults hurled at Africans by Viscount Montgomery, the British WW2 hero, whose classified papers had just been released, after the 30-year rule.

After the war, Montgomery had travelled around Africa and had written in his papers that the African was a savage and thus incapable of ruling himself. It was this lie that The Times sought to challenge, by pointing out that if Nkrumah had not been brought low by the cocoa price, he would have succeeded in ruling over his country.

The Times was right. In 1960, according to the historical record, the world cocoa price stood at a magical £960 per ton. By 1964 the West, wanting to overthrow Nkrumah, had manipulated the cocoa price to a disgraceful low of £80 per ton. With that massive price collapse, the power of Nkrumah to run Ghana was taken away from him by the Western world – which controlled the price of cocoa, Ghana’s then main export crop and revenue earner.

With no money to run the country, Nkrumah painfully saw his beloved Ghana slip away from him, even as the US and British governments, as seen in CIA declassified documents released in the late 90s, met in the White House in Washington on 2 February 1964 to plan a coup against him. The plan took two years to bear fruit, finally ousting Nkrumah on 24 February 1966.

But the Ghanaians who were jubilant when the coup happened only saw Nkrumah as the problem that had been removed by the coup. They never knew about the wicked behind-the-scenes Western manipulation of the economy and politics of Ghana that had destroyed not only the living conditions in the country but also the politics of the country itself.

The same template was opened for Mugabe and Zimbabwe when they took back their ancestral land that had been stolen by white settlers in Rhodesia. The same behind-the-scenes Western manipulation that brought Nkrumah down was dusted off the shelf and implemented against Mugabe and Zimbabwe, and it slowly ate away at him and the economy he ran, until it eventually led to his downfall.

That was what Robin Cook was warning Stan Mudenge about in 2000. It was interesting that the international coverage of Mugabe’s downfall never mentioned the crippling economic sanctions that the West imposed on Zimbabwe in 2001 which destroyed the economy – sanctions whose effects are still felt today.

It is the economic hardships engendered by the sanctions that brought the crowds into the streets to celebrate when Mugabe fell. But who remembers Robin Cook? NA

Written By
Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

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