It’s hard not to have noticed what’s been happening in Zimbabwe over the last decade. Since 2000, the country’s economy has virtually capitulated as Robert Mugabe printed more and more money, ignoring its equilibrium with inflation and as a result, plunged an entire nation into poverty. It seemed almost comical that he was offered the position of UN tourism ambassador yesterday, supposedly to promote holidaymaking despite being under a travel ban himself. Simon Bright’s new documentary tells of Zimbabwe’s democratic struggles, including coverage of the political zoo that was the 2008 presidential election.
Bright paces his film well, showing the arc from Mugabe’s early days of conquering idealism stirred by his university studies through to his vacant political attentiveness. You can even see the unresponsive gaze which seemed to take hold of him at the turn of the new millennium, perhaps as his ability to engage in any kind of egalitarian discourse evaporated. As is the case with most dictators, Mugabe entered as a knight in shining armour, proposing to steer a liberalised African nation out of the 1960s as Secretary General and into a new prosperous era of destabilised racial oppression as President.
But the material is dusted over fairly quickly and any debate had on Mugabe’s relationship with power doesn’t go beyond what we’ve read in the news or speculated on. There is a fundamental philosophical and psychological need to discuss how his fall from grace occurred, and Bright doesn’t cover it sharply enough to tilt a refreshed conversation on the matter. As the film trudges further into the economic nosedive which started during the early 2000s, the discussion on Zimbabwe’s international ties is almost nonexistent – surely a concerning notion which would explore how Mugabe projected the nation of Zimbabwe on the African stage, but also to predominantly White, western democracies? Bright’s documentary shows how Mugabe’s story is inherently dramatic and makes for interesting cinema but leaves out some crucial analysis of true power play.
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