Saturday, April 12, 2008


A good op-ed in the NY Times early on in April on Robert Mugabe - Heidi Holland tries to put a human face on Mugabe and tries in some way to explain (if it can be explained) how Mugabe feels victimized by the Western World:

So why talk about his heathen grandmother? I wanted to understand the Robert Mugabe who had been obscured amid the chaos and misrule. The one described by his classmates as shy, bookish, a loner deeply attached to his mother and resentful of his absent father. The one who was at first remarkably forgiving of white landowners when he came to power in 1980. (For instance, Mr. Mugabe allowed his predecessor, Ian Smith, who led the white minority government that ran Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known, to live on in Harare without harassment, even when Mr. Smith embarked on a campaign against him.)

But bitterness had clearly welled up within him. When I first met him at that dinner in 1975, he seemed to be a considerate man, asking after the health of my toddler son even as he fled into exile to a neighboring country shortly afterward. By the end of 2007, as we sat together again after 28 years of his rule, he exuded the air of a lost and angry man.

Why? Part of the answer came to me in our interview, as Mr. Mugabe expressed almost tearful regret at his inability to socialize with the queen of England. He feels that the West — and Britain in particular — has failed to recognize his “suffering and sacrifice.” As someone who by his own estimation is part British, this rejection has taken on the intensity of a family quarrel.

Much of the quarrel centers on the vexed issue of land redistribution. As part of the pact that created Zimbabwe’s independence, Britain promised financial aid to help the young country redistribute land from white farmers to blacks.

When this money was misused, the British government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher began to withhold it. Mrs. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, agreed to restore the money. But before he could do so, his successor, Tony Blair, reversed course, taking the aid off the table, where it remains today. It is this grievance against Britain for short-changing him on the land redistribution issue that Mr. Mugabe craves understanding

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