How ironic that the eras of Mugabe and Adams are drawing to a close at roughly the same time. Both are men of blood. Both remained in office for unhealthily long periods of time, reflecting the essentially undemocratic nature of their political machines and their origins in armed insurgency. It now turns out that neither is departing immediately.
Of course there are significant differences. Adams will go with the adulation of his followers and continuing influence. Mugabe led the majority fraction of a liberation movement which ruthlessly crushed opposition on his own side and is dragging his ageing feet in the teeth of party as well as popular clamour urging him to quit.
Or is there more of a similarity here than appears on the surface? In each case nirvana has not arrived. Irish unity remains a viable vision as much despite Sinn Fein as because of it. Whether Zimbabwe’s future is democratic or just another Zanu PF stitch- up remains to be played out.
The most salient difference is the rapt attention paid to every move over Mugabe in the British media, while Adam’s rather clearer announcement was virtually ignored. In the chaotic state of Westminster politics, Ireland north and south feature only as a footnote to Brexit. Zimbabwe is more interesting as part of the post-colonial angst, even though British influence in the country is notably absent.
Sinn Fein now takes a major step towards becoming just another Irish minority leftish party rooted in history and eligible as a coalition partner, like Clan na Poblacta and the Workers’ Party before them. Currently they stand a better chance than Labour of becoming the minority left coalition partner of choice, whatever Fianna Fail may say just now. A good deal less likely is the realisation of Sinn Fein’s ambition to force a new polarity between left and right in Irish politics to become the official opposition and ultimately a main party of government.
In years to come, Mugabe will revert to iconic status as a founding father with complications. Gerry Adams will continue to exemplify toxicity and unique appeal in equal measure. as Ed Moloney explains with his usual force. He is unlikely to disappear without trace for as long as he lives, however much time he now spends on the trampoline.
His indispensible role in the peace process is his considerable egacy. He can add to his reputation as a “master strategist” one last time by repositioning Sinn Fein to return to the Assembly rather than their current antics as lords of misrule with the DUP. The electoral dividend in the Republic seems clear enough. Ireland north and south are surely longing for a quieter, more stable life.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London