The death of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe aged 95 has come as a relief to freedom fighters around the world. However, many of his fellow tyrants considered him both a friend and ally.
As noted by Breitbart News, Mugabe’s 40-year leadership of the former British colony was “marked with bloodshed, persecution of political opponents, and vote-rigging on an industrial scale.” He also plunged the country, once one of the wealthiest in Africa, into an unprecedented economic disaster so severe that the government was forced to introduce a trillion-dollar note.
As it became clear to Western democracies that Mugabe was not the great colonial liberator he once promised to be, his country faced increasing international and economic isolation. However, Mugabe still managed to build relationships with some of the other most repressive regimes on earth.
The Chinese leader welcomed Mugabe to Beijing in 2011, describing him as an “old friend” of China and the “famed leader of the national liberation movement in Africa.”
Xi, who was at the time China’s vice president, outlined plans to expand farming, mining, and infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe, a pledge he has since aggressively followed through as Beijing seeks to dominate the African continent through economic investment.
The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed Mugabe to Tehran in 2012, praising his “brilliant record in fighting the western arrogant powers.”
“Around 25 years ago, when I was in Harare to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, you stressed with the same revolutionary spirit that the member states of the movement only talk and that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the only country that acts,” Khamenei said at the time. “And now an opportunity has been provided for us to cooperate with each other and guide and call all the member states to taking action.”
For his part, Mugabe decried it as “extremely ridiculous that Westerners accuse Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons.” Four years later, Iran would sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement brokered by Barack Obama and other Western states in which the regime promised it would curb its development of nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The Kim Dynasty
After assuming power in 1980, Mugabe struck up a rapport with communist dictator Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un who founded the modern Stalinist state. The pair reached an agreement where Pyongyang would train a wing of the Zimbabwean army, known as the Fifth Brigade, which Mugabe sought complete control as part of his bid to consolidate power in the country. The Fifth Brigade was responsible for the Gukurahundi genocide of the Ndebele people, which is believed to have resulted in at least 20,000 deaths.
In 2010, Mugabe sparked international outrage from animal welfare advocates and conservationists after sending a range of wild animals, including baby elephants too young to leave their mothers, to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a gift. As noted by ABC, the animals “faced almost certain death” as a result of trauma and the regime’s inability to fulfill their basic needs.
With the Castro regime long interested in pursuing relationships with African countries such as South Africa and Angola, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was also a close ally of the regime. In 2007, state propaganda outlet Granma announced Cuba’s “solidarity with the people and government of Zimbabwe, the support for its struggle in defense of the most sacred and inalienable rights, and the absolute rejection of attempts to isolate that African country.”
Then-Vice President of Zimbabwe Joyce Teurai Ropa Mujuru “wished health and long life to Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, brother of struggles and dreams of President Mugabe.” Mugabe would end up outliving Fidel Castro by nearly three years.
In 2004, the late socialist dictator Hugo Chávez praised Mugabe as a “freedom fighter” during a visit to Caracas, bestowing him with a replica of South American independence hero Simón Bolívar’s sword.
“For you, who like Bolivar, took up arms to liberate your people. For you, who like Bolivar, are and will always be a true freedom fighter,” Chávez said. “He continues, alongside his people, to confront the pretensions of new imperialists.”
In recent years, observers have drawn comparisons of Venezuela and Zimbabwe’s economic predicament, with both countries suffering similar problems such as shortages, hyperinflation, and the shame of having been transformed from prosperous and resource-rich countries to two of the world’s poorest nations.
Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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