Richard Kanyangu says he has what it takes to unseat 93-year-old Robert Mugabe, the long-serving president of Zimbabwe and the oldest ruler in the world. Kanyangu, a Kamloops pastor and psychiatric nurse, left Zimbabwe in 1995, but he says he’s spent too much time waiting for change in his country and has “no option” but to run for election himself in the country’s 2018 presidential election.
“We’ve stood on the sidelines for too long and watched the situation hoping it would change by itself,” he explained. “But after 20 years of doing that, I’ve come to the realization that that is going to take someone like me to get involved in the process if we’re going to see anything good come out of the country.”
There is widespread voter fatigue with president Mugabe and the terrible hardships ordinary Zimbabweans must endure. More and more Zimbabweans, especially the younger generation, is rebelling against a regime that has stripped them and their parents of their dignity and reduced millions to hunger, starvation and with no prospect of a job. Mugabe has been the leader of the southern African nation since it was first recognized in 1980, first serving as prime minister, then president.
Critics of the president say his policies have led the once-promising country of 14 million into turmoil and to the brink of collapse. Today neighboring Zambia’s economy has a GDP of $28 billion, double that of Zimbabwe’s shrinking economy.
In 2009, failed economic policies and record hyper-inflation, at one stage 230 million per cent, forced the country to abandon its national currency. Today, Zimbabweans use a combination of American dollars, South African rands and Chinese yuan, although the government introduced special Zimbabwean bond notes in 2016 due to a dollar shortage.
Critics say Mugabe’s incompetence, constant travelling and a ZANU PF party that only looks after its own elite, is further fracturing the society and police regularly brutalize its citizens.
The President who will be 94 during the 2018 presidential race, has also faced questions of whether he is still of sound mind at his advanced age. Recent TV interviews show a shockingly incoherent and slow Mugabe trying to address the issues of the day, but he seems so disconnected from the people of Zimbabwe, and clearly showing his advance age, that even opposition leaders are calling Mugabe’s wife and colleagues “cruel” for not allowing him to retire and rest in dignity.
“At this point as a country, Zimbabwe has come to that place where we don’t have any other options. We are right at the bottom of the bottom,” Kanyangu said. He points our that the only way forward is to present a “third” way and introduce a new party into the fray which can offer a new vision to Zimbabweans who he says have grown more apathetic under Mugabe’s rule.
“Most of the people who are in the country have normalized the situation because they’ve had to live with it day in and day out,” he said. “It requires somebody who has a fresh set of eyes, who has a different perspective on what is happening and who believes in the possibility of change to actually come in and challenge the status quo.”
Asked whether he’s worried about his own safety given Mugabe’s past inclinations, Kanyangu said he has no fear. “I like to think that fear exists where you have an option … but the reality is what else can we do? We’ve got to be willing to take the risk in order to bring about the change that is so much needed in the country.”
Kanyangu will run as candidate under the umbrella of the Unity Party, a party he helped create and has registered to participate in the election. He says he plans to return to Zimbabwe to campaign this spring. Zimbabweans remain hopeful, despite the false starts by a number of opponents to the regime recently and the failure of the one powerful Tsvangirai and his MDC movement to dislodge Mugabe & Kie.