Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, has beaten the secretary general of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, as well as President Park Geun-Hye of South Korea and Bill Gates to become the recipient of the Confucius Peace Prize, the Chinese answer to the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Qiao Wei, the president of the judging committee of the peace prize, the choice of Mr. Mugabe was justified by the fact that “Mugabe is the founding leader of Zimbabwe and has been trying to stabilise the country’s political and economic order ever since the country was first founded. He brought benefit to the people of Zimbabwe.”
These are praises which will never be uttered in regard to the 91 year-old Pan-African nationalist, whose grip on power is still as tenacious as when he took power in 1980, by the western world. In fact, many voices have risen to condemn the decision of the prize committee, blaming Mr. Mugabe for bringing down the country through his economic policies, which drove up inflation and caused many Zimbabweans to take refuge in neighbouring countries and in the West.
However, Mr. Mugabe has not always had a fraught relationship with the West. In 1994, he was awarded the title of Knight Grand Cross by none other than Queen Elizabeth II. He also holds several honorary degrees and doctorates from international universities, although at least three have since been revoked.
His woes started with the land redistribution programme, a programme which was blocked for a period of 10 years as part of the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 to protect the interests of the white minority in the wake of the country’s independence. Compensations were paid to the Mugabe’s regime by the British government until 1997 when Tony Blair took power.
In the words of the then minister of Tony Blair, Clare Short justified the unilateral stop to the agreement by saying, “I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds, without links to former colonial interests.” But for other better informed sources, there were other motivations.
Clare Short’s adviser mentions that it was in the New Labour party’s ambition to get rid of Robert Mugabe. “… Labour’s strategy was to accelerate Mugabe’s unpopularity by failing to provide him with funding for land redistribution. They thought if they didn’t give him the money for land reform, the people in the rural areas would start to turn against him.”
Mr. Mugabe went ahead with the land reform programme with the consequences being sanctions falling on his country. Undeterred, he instituted a “Look East” policy, which aimed to expand bilateral and trade relations and offer priority to investors from China, but also Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Russia and others.
This equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to notable world leaders like Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin. With Mugabe as the new recipient of the prize, his supporters are seeing this as an affirmation that African leaders need no longer dance to the tune of the west.
Furthermore, there is a hypocrisy on the part of the west, which is increasingly being called out in African circles whereby leaders like Mugabe ,who refuse to toe the line, are called dictators and face sanctions. But eyes are firmly shut on the dealings of nations like Saudi Arabia.
The prize ceremony, which will be held in December in Beijing, will no doubt raise more talks about the state of Zimbabwe once again.