Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has spoken out at the United Nations in defense of his country's urban demolition campaign. The Zimbabwean leader lashed out at two of his strongest critics, the United States and Britain.
Mr. Mugabe Sunday rejected a U.N. report that described Zimbabwe's destruction of urban slums as a "catastrophic unjustice" against the poor. In an address to the General Assembly, the embattled Zimbabwean leader called the findings of a U.N. investigator "insulting and degrading."
"[In] the aftermath of our urban clean-up operation, popularly called Operation Murambastsvina, or Restore Order, the familiar noises re-echoed from the same malicious prophets of doom, claiming that there was a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe," said Mr. Mugabe. "Those unfounded alarms are aimed at deliberately tarnishing the image of Zimbabwe, and projecting it as a failed state."
In a 100-page report issued last July, the Tanzanian director of the U.N. Habitat organization, Anna Tibaijuka, concluded that the urban demolition campaign was ill-conceived and inhumane. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the report "profoundly distressing."
But in his comments to the General Assembly, Mr. Mugabe ridiculed the Tibaijuka Report, saying it was effectively calling for "development in reverse." He accused Britain, of attempting to score cheap political points by bringing up the urban demolition campaign at the U.N. Security Council.
"It is my hope that member countries will join us in rejecting this neo-colonialist attempt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe," he added. "But is it not obvious that Britain, under the regime of Tony Blair, has ceased to respect the charter of the United Nations."
Mr. Mugabe also lashed out at the United States for its response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. He charged that authorities had deliberately abandoned non-white Americans in what he called an example of "callous racial neglect."
"Most of the victims were blacks, and we are bound to ask what transgressions we, the blacks of this world, have committed? Was it not enough punishment and suffering in history that we were uprooted and made helpless slaves?" asked Mr. Mugabe.
President Bush has said every race was affected by the hurricane, but he acknowledged that the greatest hardship fell on the poor, and that poverty has its roots in generations of segregation and discrimination. He appealed to Americans to "clear away the legacy of inequality."
In his U.N. speech, the 81-year-old Zimbabwean leader also criticized what he referred to as "detractors and ill-wishers" for reporting mass starvation in his country. He said "there has been none of that."
In an interview with The Associated Press during his visit to New York, Mr. Mugabe said people in his country are not hungry, they just cannot eat their favorite food. He told The AP [that] Zimbabweans are "very, very happy." [see below] Aid agencies have said four million out of the country's 11.5 million people face famine.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Sunday accused the United States of deliberately neglecting homeless black victims of Hurricane Katrina while condemning him for demolishing urban slums.
Mugabe also told the U.N. General Assembly that former colonial ruler Britain, which inspired European diplomatic sanctions against Zimbabwe, was equally as hypocritical by participating in an "illegal" and "devastating" invasion of Iraq.
"These imperialist countries have unashamedly abused the power of the media by hypocritically portraying themselves as philanthropists and international saviors of victims of various calamities," Mugabe said.
"They have remained silent about the shocking circumstances of obvious state neglect surrounding the tragic Gulf Coast, where a whole community of mainly nonwhites was deliberately abandoned to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina as sacrificial lambs," he told the assembly.
A U.N. investigation by the director of the Nairobi-based Habitat agency in July called Zimbabwe's bulldozing of urban slums a disastrous venture, which had thrown 700,000 people out of their homes or jobs and affected 2 million others. Many were Mugabe's political opponents.
"Where is the Zimbabwe-famous Habitat?" Mugabe asked in reference to Katrina victims. "Why should it maintain ominous silence? For here is real work of the homeless for it?"
He praised certain countries on the U.N. Security Council, led by China, for trying to prevent, albeit unsuccessfully, Britain's move to put Zimbabwe's crises on the council agenda.
"But then is it not obvious that Britain under the regime of (Prime Minister) Tony Blair, has ceased to respect the Charter of the United Nations?" Mugabe said.
He defended his Operation Restore Order campaign, saying it was followed by a "well-planned vast reconstruction program." But analysts say Zimbabwe, amid a deepening food and fuel crisis, has too few funds to rebuild.
Mugabe also reminded the assembly of the protracted guerrilla wars fought before independence in 1980.
"Was it not enough punishment and suffering in history that we were uprooted and made helpless slaves not only in new colonial outposts but also domestically," Mugabe said.
"We of Africa protest that, in this day and age, we should continue to be treated as lesser human beings than other races," Mugabe added.
The African leader some call a hero and others a destructive despot suggests people in his country aren't hungry, they just can't eat their favorite food.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, said in an interview with The Associated Press that his people are "very, very happy" though aid agencies report 4 million of 11.6 million face famine.
"You describe it as if we have a whole cemetery," Mugabe said of a reporter's description of the southern African nation's dire straits, blaming "continuous years of drought."
The problem is reliance on corn, he said during Friday's interview, "but it doesn't mean we haven't other things to eat: We have heaps of potatoes but people are not potato eaters ... they have rice but they're not as attracted (to that)."
But the cost of potatoes is beyond the pocket of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Internationally, Mugabe has become a pariah and looked set for further isolation at the weekend, when the U.S. government said it was preparing travel sanctions against him, his government and family members, prohibiting them from traveling to the United States.
That would be punishment for alleged gross human rights abuses, including torture of opponents, and theft of elections, most recently in March.
Zimbabwe became one of Africa's most vibrant economies under Mugabe, who was elected in landslide 1979 elections after a seven-year guerrilla war forced an end to white minority rule in Rhodesia, once a British colony.
He assured nervous white farmers, then fleeing the country that "there is a place for you in the sun."
Zimbabwe became the regional bread basket, with some 5,000 white commercial farmers growing enough to feed the nation and export. Buyers from all over the world came to Zimbabwe's annual tobacco auction, tourists flocked to the Victoria Falls and wildlife reserves, while its Sandawana emeralds and renowned Shona stone sculpture were widely popular.
That changed in the 1990s. Mugabe's rule became increasingly repressive against a growingly vociferous opposition and corruption grew rampant. Mugabe then seized on an issue that long has preoccupied Africans - land ownership.
Pointing to a distribution that had a few thousand whites owning tens of thousands of acres of rich lands, the government began appropriating white farms in a violent campaign in which some white farmers were killed.
Tens of thousands of farmworkers lost their jobs and most land was distributed to the family and friends of politically connected Zimbabweans, though some ordinary people got small plots.
Last week, the Commercial Farmers' Union said fewer than 1,000 white commercial farmers remain, working a fraction of land they once sowed. A parliamentary committee said there would be no farming season this year, even if the drought breaks, because there are no seeds, no agricultural chemicals because there's no foreign currency, and no fuel to transport products or work tractors.
[Every day] in Zimbabwe queues more than a mile long form for basics like bread and gasoline.
Zimbabweans also are reeling from what Mugabe calls a "cleanup" campaign, in which hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class urban people lost their homes to bulldozers.
Mugabe insisted though that "We pride ourselves as being top, really, on the African ladder ... We feel that we have actually been advancing rather than going backwards."
Yet on Sept. 8, setting out Zimbabwe's aims for the U.N. millennium goals before heading to the World Summit, he said the number of Zimbabweans who cannot afford one daily balanced meal has risen from 20 percent in 1995 to 48 percent in 2003, and that 63 percent now cannot afford more comprehensive basic needs including things like school fees.
In Africa, his seizure of lands that whites took from natives when they colonized in the 1800s is applauded, and he is seen as a towering hero.
Now, he said, his government will take a stake in private mining enterprises to ensure Zimbabweans benefit from their natural resources. He said he expects companies mining there, including the multinational Anglo American, to understand that desire.
"What we intend to do is for the state to have a stake in the production of some of our minerals _ gold, platinum, diamonds," he said. "We just want to be partners. We are not doing anything unusual, and this is the practice in many countries." Zimbabwe also mines coal, chromium ore, asbestos, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium and tin.
Mugabe, 81, said he has fulfilled all his ambitions except retirement. He plans to stop being president in 2008, and write and farm, but said he'll remain in politics until he dies.
"I can't retire from that unless the Almighty says 'enough is enough'."