Okay, so. I see why people are reacting viscerally to this statement: there probably is a double standard at work here, and it’s easy to get behind the idea that the interviewer’s question is nothing but a product of racism and a colonialist mindset.
But it’s also important to remember that this is Robert Mugabe and the case in favour of him is not nearly as straightforward and clear-cut as he would have people believe.
So Robert Mugabe was the Prime Minister between 1980 and 1987, whereupon he became Zimbabwe’s first head of state. He has held this position ever since then, meaning that he has been in power for a combined 34 years. His rule has been VERY contested, too: in 2008, his election opponent Morgan Tsvangirai won 50.3% of the vote, making a run-off election unnecessary. In the run-off election, Mugabe won 85.5% of the vote and Tsvangirai only won 9.3%… after Tsangirai was forced to pull out of the election due to widespread violence from government military force. Something similar happened in 2013, when Mugabe defeated Tsvangirai again despite widespread accusations of election fraud.
Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe experienced hyperinflation of insane proportions and the Zimbabwean life expectancy has dropped from 59.2 in 1980 to 52.7 in 2012. Additionally, Mugabe has referred to LGBT people as “worse than dogs and pigs”: homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, and Mugabe has publicly cracked down on organizations like Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has also famously used anti-colonial rhetoric to justify tremendous violence against Zimbabwe’s white minority, which has happened continuously throughout his rule. And that can sound almost justifiable when framed in a certain light (economic redistribution, making up for colonialism) until you remember that rich white people have not been the only targets of his violence: he has also targeted urban slum dwellers, unions, and supporters of his political opponents. In response to widespread criticisms, Mugabe famously compared himself to Hitler, saying that “I am still the Hitler of the time. This Hitler has only one objective, justice for his own people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people, and their right to their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold.”
So yeah. I get it. Some people within Zimbabwe and within Africa at large who very much DO view Mugabe as an anti-colonialist hero, and there are a lot of valid things you can say to back that argument up. But there is also evidence to support that he is a dictator who has encouraged tremendous violence against certain groups within his country and has relied on multiple fraudulent elections in order to remain in power.
Basically, it’s important to remember that even if it’s a good soundbite?It’s still important to think critically about these situations before reblogging. African politics and politicians are tremendously diverse — just like the continent itself! — and African leaders are not untouchable simply because they are African.
And that the situation on the ground is often a whole lot more complicated than the political discourse in an interview talk show is going to make it sound.