Ninety-year-old Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s most divisive figures, ascended to the rotating chairmanship of the African Union (AU) yesterday, casting a shadow over the continental body’s relations with the West.
The only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence from Britain in 1980 assumed the largely ceremonial role when he was handed the AU flag and gavel at a summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
In his acceptance speech, Africa’s oldest head of state spoke of the need to guard against foreigners exploiting the continent’s mineral wealth and called for more assistance for African farmers.
“African resources should belong to Africa and to no one else, except to those we invite as friends. Friends we shall have, yes, but imperialists and colonialists no more,” he said, to applause from his peers.
In other corners, however, he is seen as a despotic pariah responsible for human rights abuses, rigged elections and turning one of Africa’s most promising nations into a basket case.
“Mugabe has trashed democracy in Zimbabwe and he and his party have ruined the economy,” said Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
“He lacks the political legitimacy to lead an Africa that should be looking to consolidate democracy and good governance.”