1) Both were born in the British Empire:
This is a no-brainer, as Dr. Williams was born in 1911, 51 years before Trinidad & Tobago exited the British Empire on 31st August 1962. Robert Mugabe was born in 1924, 2 years after Rhodesia became a dominion – a self-governing territory within the British Empire. By the time Mugabe was born, it had been 35 years since Rhodesia was founded as a colony, growing out of the British South Africa Company in 1889. Rhodesia unofficially broke away from Britain’s empire in November 1965 under largely internationally unrecognised white minority rule and then legitimately, as Zimbabwe, in 1980.
2) Both led their respective countries to independence:
Eric Williams founded the People’s National Movement (PNM) in 1956 and was Trinidad & Tobago’s premier in the run-up to independence and became prime minister in 1962 upon the granting of independence by the British.
Robert Mugabe’s road to the top was longer and fraught with tremendous difficulty in comparison; he founded the Zimbabwe African National Union or ZANU – later ZANU-PF – spent time in exile campaigning for an end to white minority rule in what was then called Rhodesia, and in prison due to this very activism.
Following often acrimonious negotiations in London with the boldfaced white minority government of Ian Smith, and Her Majesty’s Government in the UK led by a lukewarm Margaret Thatcher, the independent nation of Zimbabwe came into being with Mugabe at its helm.
3) Both are highly educated:
Eric Williams earned a doctorate in history at one of the finest universities in the galaxy, Oxford.
For his part Mugabe is certainly no slouch, and that’s putting it lightly; he holds 7 degrees earned over some 2 decades, namely an arts degree from the University of Fort Hare (South Africa), a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Administration from the University of South Africa, as well as a Bachelor and Master of Science in addition to having read for an LLB and LLM from the University of London. This makes Mugabe one of, if not the most educated head of state / government of all time.
4) Both coaxed a rival to join them:
As mentioned above, in 1963 Robert Mugabe formed a political party called ZANU, for Zimbabwe African National Union. This political party was instrumental in the struggle to achieve independence for Zimbabwe and political power for the majority native black population in the face of the apartheid-esque Ian Smith regime. Parallel to his party there was another one founded in 1961 and called ZAPU, or Zimbabwe African People’s Union, which was just as important to the struggle. Having differing methods and outlooks (though they were both leftist) the 2 parties still eventually coalesced to become ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union) in 1987.
The leader of ZAPU was Joshua Nkomo, who had what could best be described as a tense relationship with Mugabe. Their differences were irreparable in the end, with the New York Times lamenting in hindsight in an Nkomo obituary that the ZAPU head had ended up “a bitter and nearly silent figurehead” after being “outmaneuvered and crushed” by his rival Mugabe. Be that as it may, back in 1979 when Rhodesia was giving way to Zimbabwe, Nkomo was convinced to accept a post in the government that would be led by his rival Mugabe. He was brought into the Mugabe fold in a way.
In Trinidad, Eric Williams saw off all comers to emerge as the eminent force on the crown colony’s local political scene by the early 1950s. One contender who had fallen by the wayside during Dr. Williams’ meteoric rise was Dr. Patrick Solomon. Dr. Solomon was not a rival of Dr. Williams per se in the sense of confrontation, but their trajectories took some time to merge so they were not enemies, but were not always in the same camp.
Founder of the Caribbean Socialist Party in the late 1940s and making up one-third of the holy trinity of pre-independence Trinidad & Tobago politics (alongside Butler and Cipriani) according to Dr. Williams, Dr. Solomon poured a great deal of energy into the issue of constitutional reform in Trinidad & Tobago, and, in the words of Dr. Williams himself in his A History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago, “produced what will always remain a decisive document in the political and constitutional history of Trinidad and Tobago” in the form of his landmark 1948 Minority Report on Constitution Reform, in which he took to task the status quo of the organisation and composition of Trinidad & Tobago’s colonial government and laid out a battery of bold proposals to remedy the problems.
After suffering a heavy loss in a Port of Spain constituency he had contested in 1950 elections, Solomon retired from politics, satisfied for his legacy to be that of a respected academic and constitutional reform campaigner. This was to turn out to be a mere hiatus from public life as Williams, upon founding the People’s National Movement in 1956, convinced Solomon to come out of retirement and assume the post of Deputy Political Leader of the nascent party that was to go on to become the single most powerful political force Trinidad & Tobago would ever know.
5) Territory / land issues were important to them both:
Dr. Williams insisted the Americans leave the base at Chaguaramas, and that they did.
To cut an extremely long story short, Mugabe insisted white farmers hand back the land to indigenous Zimbabweans after independence, and that they eventually did, by force in most cases. Zimbabwe called out whites in the country as “citizens by colonisation” and affirmed that their ill-gotten colonial advantages could and would not continue into the era of independence. After a land purchase scheme run in collaboration with the British government fell through, due in part to suspension of funding by the incoming Blair government in 1997, Mugabe took back what was always his peoples’ in the first place.
6) Both have met Queen Elizabeth II:
Not much explanation needed here. Both countries were British colonies and maintained vibrant relations with the UK after independence. In the case of Zimbabwe vibrant may not quite be the word as the country was most often at loggerheads with the British over leftover issues from the pre-independence era, but that’s another issue. Below are pictures of Williams and the Queen in 1962, and Mugabe with the long serving Monarch in 1994.
7) They both liked British pop music:
Williams can be seen below shooting the breeze with the Beatles (some of them anyway) in Trinidad.
As for Mugabe, the BBC reports that British glam pop sensation Cliff Richard was in Mugabe’s 8-track in heavy rotation back then.
8) And, most importantly by far, each fancied himself politically invincible:
Dr. Williams ruled the roost in Trinidad & Tobago politics for quite some time. He (and his PNM) was like Mike Tyson circa 1986-1989; the aforementioned Solomon was a game but battle-spent Larry Holmes, Butler was a hapless Trevor Berbick and Cipriani was Ali or Frazier – from the previous generation and so not in the contemporary conversation.
Surely letting the unabated success go to his head, Williams is famous for claiming that the PNM was such an unstoppable electoral force that even if he fielded a crapaud / frog as a candidate in a constituency, the Caribbean amphibian (ß Sesame Street reference of course) would win.
The comment has proved to be one that the PNM isn’t going to live down any time soon, as evidenced by this 2002 United National Congress (UNC) campaign ad calling out the PNM for the scorn heaped upon voters by Williams’ nonchalant declaration from decades prior.
It is worth noting that just this complacent attitude, coupled with economic downturn, saw the Mike Tyson PNM go down hard to the Buster Douglas NAR in 1986, after 3 decades as undisputed champions of T&T politics, some 5 years after Williams passed on.
First of all, Mugabe’s feelings of invincibility go well beyond politics and cover the very fact that he is alive and has been able to stave off death, as he once boasted “I have died many times – that’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once”.
Politically speaking, Mugabe made headlines last month when his wife opined that even if her husband – who has been prime minister then president of Zimbabwe for all of its 37 years of independence, making him the second longest serving head of state on the continent – were to pass away before the next elections, he is so popular that his corpse could stand for election and win.
Williams must be spinning in his grave upon hearing of his bombastic brand of banter being bandied about this way. Grace Mugabe could at least have given Williams credit as her inspiration, no?
9) Bonus: How Patrick Manning compares to Robert Mugabe
It fits in too well to not mention the fact that, just as Patrick Manning had no qualms with removing his internal party rivals from their posts, as he did with now PM Keith Rowley in 2008 for speaking out against a project he did not agree with, so too does Mugabe not hesitate to eject naysayers within Zanu-PF. This was the fate meted out to former Zanu-PF insider Joice Mujuru, who was relieved of her responsibilities as vice-president of the country in 2014 for alleged corruption, whereas her side of the story is that she raised concerns about corruption herself and was blacklisted for it.
Despite all these similarities and being in power for lengthy periods of time (19 years for Williams and 37 and counting for Mugabe) the 2 leaders were only both in office at the same time for a brief 11-month window, from Zimbabwe’s independence on 19th April, 1980 to Williams death on 29th March, 1981. How about that?