The announcement was followed by controversy. On the one hand, supporters of the African leader argue that his struggle in liberating Zimbabwe from colonial rule means he is a suitable representative for the continent. On the other, his opponents declare that his countless human rights violations, tyrannic abuse of power and undemocratic election rigging proves him to be a ruthless dictator unsuitable for the role.
Mugabe was once considered a heroic figure in Africa, leading the rebels to free the then-named Rhodesia from British colonial rule. After spending a decade in prison, Mugabe gained supporters in Zimbabwe much like Nelson Mandela in South Africa. However, as he became leader of the of the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), in 1980, the comparison was soon dismissed. The white-owned farmlands seized for the free people of Zimbabwe were quickly divided up and partitioned between Mugabe’s close friends and political allies. Land was the nation’s main economic resource and its monopolisation plunged the country into poverty. Although the BBC estimated Zimbabwe’s annual inflation to be 100,000% in 2010, Mugabe continues to rule Zimbabwe and now will chair the AU over the year to come.
His new role’s controversy is surrounded by allegations of human rights abuses. In addition to his poor handling of Zimbabwe’s finance and infrastructure, Mugabe has instilled a tyrannical reign where human rights violations are rife. The ideological war waged onto the west during the liberation years followed him into office as any local opponent of his regime is accused of being “a puppet of the Western imperialists,” the French newspaper Libération has previously claimed. In a referendum vote in 2000, Mugabe faced defeat for the first time since 1980 and the war-veteran commanded his private militia’s to kill all political rivals as well as their families to ensure victory. Two years later, when the 2002 elections took place and Mugabe failed to gain enough votes to avoid a second-round scrutiny, he dismissed the elections claiming that only God could remove him from office.
Whilst Mugabe’s tyrannic nature is obvious, few foreign states and organisations have been able to intervene due to their absence in the area caused by his obsession of eradicating any Western influence. International organisations have highly criticised the terror commandeered by Mugabe, but the lack of intervention has only led to financial and travel bans from the US and the EU. While European diplomatic sources have declared that the ceremonial appointment will not damage their relations with the continent, there is no doubt that it will be difficult to collaborate with a man they accuse of being a tyrant. As for Mugabe, during his acceptance speech, The Times reported he welcomed “friends” to partner up with the continent, but declared that there was no space for “colonialists and imperialists” to take advantage of their resources. Once the new Chair of the AU sits at the same table with other world leaders at future summits it will be up to him to decide who are his “friends” and not the “colonialists” he has fervently fought his whole life.
Mugabe’s controversial new role of Chair of the AU takes place during a critical stage in African-Western relations with the rise of fundamentalist terrorism throughout the continent. Many claim it to be one last symbolic gesture to an ageing 90-year-old autocrat that once stood for an important cause for the African people. It is, however, unforgivable that a mass murderer is to be symbolically decorated for past actions that have long been erased by the bloodshed of innocent people. As ineffective as his role may be, the nations that have condemned his actions in the past must take a stand now against his election as Chairman of the AU, which seeks to promote peace across frontiers.