The Emperor’s Nice Clothes

Robert Mugabe, sempiternal president of Zimbabwe, was recently booed and jeered in parliament, suggesting that, after more than a third of a century in power and at the age of 91, he still has a thing or two to learn about being an absolute dictator. Of course, he might also be a believer in the hydraulic theory of human relations, according to which it is better to let people blow off a little emotional steam than wait for them to really explode in anger and (in this case) try seriously to overthrow him. It is, after all, more difficult to plot in earnest against a man whom you have just jeered.

It is also difficult not to admire Robert Mugabe in a way. He is remarkable for his age, and to accuse him of having ruined his country (it is claimed that a sixth of the population will go hungry if emergency assistance is not soon provided) is somehow beside the point. I used to think when I was living in Tanzania that Julius Nyerere was incompetent, having maintained his country quite unnecessarily in the direst poverty (to the hosannas of most Swords Into Plowshares... Paul, Ron Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 11:36 EST - Details) development economists, especially Scandinavian), until I remembered that he had remained in power for 25 years. No politician who remains in power for that long can be called incompetent, at least not if you accept the Machiavellian view that the end of politics is power. In that sense, then, Robert Mugabe is supremely competent.

He is certainly a natty dresser, much smarter in appearance than any prominent Western politician. If you consider the Zimbabwean climate, you know what sacrifices he must have made to appear so immaculate on all occasions, what iron self-discipline it took and continues to take to do so, even if it is all at the expense of others. Most Westerners can’t be bothered anymore to dress even for a funeral, even in the most clement weather.

Now, some might say that the matter of President Mugabe’s mode of dress is unimportant, of interest only to the frivolous, but I hold with Polonius that the apparel oft proclaims the man. What, then, does Mugabe’s dress proclaim? What confusion of sentiments? Where one man wields so much power, such questions are important.

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