Like Presidents Clinton and Bush before him, Obama now has a Robert Mugabe problem. Foreign Policy Magazine recently awarded Mugabe, president of failed Zimbabwe, the dubious distinction of being the world’s second worst dictator, finishing just behind North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il.
Robert Mugabe is a liberation ‘hero’ in the struggle for independence who has since transformed himself into a murderous despot, Mugabe has arrested and tortured the opposition, squeezed his economy into astounding negative growth and billion-percent inflation, and funneled off a juicy cut for himself using currency manipulation and offshore accounts.
The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom awards Zimbabwe next to last place in its ranking of nations. George Ayittey of the Free Africa Foundation hits the nail on the head when he describes Mugabe as a “crocodile liberator.”
Before a group of young African leaders on August 3, President Obama admitted he has a Mugabe problem.
I’ll be honest with you—I’m heartbroken when I see what’s happened in Zimbabwe. I think Mugabe is an example of a leader who came in as a liberation fighter and—I’m just going to be very blunt—I do not see him serving his people well. And the abuses, the human rights abuses, the violence that’s been perpetrated against opposition leaders I think is terrible.
Such words are rare for Obama. He does not use them when speaking of other tyrants like Mahmoud Admadinejad, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez.
The President voiced frustration with the Mugabe dilemma: “We don’t want to punish the people for the abuses of a leader; on the other hand, we have very little leverage…”
Obama’s statements follow an ongoing spat in Zimbabwe. On August 2, U.S. Ambassador in Zimbabwe Charles Ray attended the funeral of Mugabe’s sister, an act of diplomatic respect. During his funeral oration, Mugabe launched into political diatribe, as dictators are often inclined to do, telling Western nations they should “go to hell.”
Ambassador Ray and others envoys left the ceremony.
Zimbabwe’s top diplomat Simbarashe Mumbengegwi called their behavior “unacceptable” and demanded an apology. “Their conduct was clearly very disrespectful of our national shrine, Zimbabwe, its leaders, its fallen heroes and its people.”
Ambassador Ray posted an ambiguous blog, calling for forgiving and healing. It is unclear whether he is begging forgiveness from Mugabe or calling on Mugabe to forgive the West.
Our ambassador is Obama’s personal representative to Mugabe. So when Obama in polite words denounces Mugabe as a tyrant and Mugabe insults our Ambassador, it is time to bring the Ambassador back from Harare.