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Friday, June 13, 2008

Mugabe’s ego was pricked too deep

BY JERRY OKUNGU

International politics can be dirty and cheap. It even gets bizarre at times. When it comes to Robert Mugabe and the West, humour sets in comfortably.

The other day, the United Nations took the liberty to invite Robert Mugabe as the President of Zimbabwe to join other leaders in Rome at a meeting to resolve the world food crisis.

As much as UN protocol was followed in extending this invitation to Uncle Bob, a few countries; notably Britain and Australia were not amused. They could not understand how a cantankerous corrupt dictator like Mugabe who has been starving his countrymen for decades could be allowed to join civilised nations at the table in Rome.

That protest not withstanding, Mugabe took the challenge and arrived in Rome in his characteristic style and in the mood to do battle with Britain, the US or Australia if the need arose. And the need indeed presented itself. Britain and Australia threw the first salvo accusing him of his usual sins; election rigging, ruining the economy, starving Zimbabweans and of course robbing European settlers of their farms. When it was time to respond, Mugabe prepared a lengthy speech that had nothing to do with world food crisis.

There was no mention of hunger in Zimbabwe. Instead, he zeroed in on Zimbabwe’s latest election crisis that has necessitated a re-run at the end of June 2008. He lost no opportunity to blast his main opposition rival as a stooge of Britain and America; a sell-out who would rather eat with the enemy than fight for the dignity of Zimbabweans.

To observers, neither Mugabe nor his Western enemies were adding anything new to the debate. What was said in Rome had been said elsewhere in other forums in the last three years, more or less by the same characters. What was surprising was what took place at the farewell dinner.

Customarily when hosts have an array of dignitaries in the form of world leaders and development partners, a farewell meal to thank them for their time is a normal practice. This is precisely what the organisers in Rome did.

What emerged was that when the guest list for dinner was finally out, two crucial names were missing; that of Robert Mugabe and the Iranian President Mahamood Ahamednijad, another thorn in the flesh of the West when it comes to nuclear armament and the destruction of Israel.

Curiously, the Iranian president decided to leave earlier rather than wait for dinner and somehow the organisers played down his absence based on the fact that such a rich country like Iran would not bother with a plate of food offered by his enemies.

As for Mugabe, the media found a curious angle to the story. They went to the archives and dug up Zimbabwe’s recent past to depict the country as literally starving because food shelves back in Harare were empty. That inflation was standing at 2,000,000% and that the smallest currency in Zimbabwe was now one million Zimbabwean dollars!

According to the media, the organisers decided to deny Mugabe dinner so that he could feel the pain of being denied food the way he had denied his people the same back home. They could not stand the sight of this ruthless dictator going through a seven- cause meal with world leaders while he had locked up the few granaries left back home!

What was the significance of this demeaning act against Mugabe? Was it to humiliate him and his wife? Would it make Mugabe change his mind and start treating Zimbabweans more humanely?

Unfortunately, none of the above was achieved by denying Mugabe a plate of potatoes in Rome. If anything, it hardened his stand against the opposition back home and what the West stands for. And his reaction was fast and furious.

He banned all international aid agencies from Zimbabwe until after the elections. He made membership to his ZANU-PLF a condition for receiving food rations from government agencies. He got mad and worse! His ego had been pricked to the limit.

Put another way; is it morally right to invite a visitor to your home then deny him food on account of his behaviour back in his home?

Is it possible the organisers in Rome would have achieved a lot with Mugabe had they engaged him in backroom dialogue and negotiations on how to end the Zimbabwean crisis?

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