Yesterday, we looked at hedge funder Daniel Och‘s “intimate, mutually profitable, and utterly unconscionable transactions with some of the most brutal tyrants of our time” – among them Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. Now 91 years old, Mugabe is the longest-lasting head of state in Africa, and arguably the worst. Banned from traveling to the U.S. and EU, he has a human-rights record that Human Rights Watch has called “abysmal.” Under his regime, journalists are routinely kidnapped and beaten, and aid money is stolen in massive amounts. During the 2008 election campaign, Mugabe’s hirelings killed at least 200 opposition supporters and tortured around 5,000 of them. Mugabe routinely demonizes gay people, whom he’s threatened to punish with beheading, and may well be the most openly racist current leader of any nation on earth, depriving his country’s white citizens of property and due process for no other reason than their skin color. Every international human-rights group agrees: this man is a menace, a monster.
And he’s an abominable steward of his country’s economy, too: a couple of weeks ago his government discarded its “virtually worthless” currency and allowed citizens to exchange every 250 trillion Zimbabwean dollars they held for one U.S. dollar.
As we’ve seen, these inconvenient truths haven’t kept Daniel Och from doing (shady) business with Mugabe. And Och, as it turns out, is far from the only friend, fan, or enabler that Mugabe has in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Recently, the San Francisco Bay View, which identifies itself as a “National Black Newspaper,” published a fulsome tribute to Mugabe by one Obi Egbuna Jr., who identifies himself as a U.S.-based journalist and as a member of something called the Zimbabwe-Cuba Friendship Association. “Mugabe’s pan-Africanist and internationalist vision,” Egbuna wrote, “makes him connect with Africans at home and abroad.” Describing Mugabe as a hero of “freedom-loving people” who “has spent a lifetime fighting for the empowerment of the African woman,” Egbuna gushed that the president’s “best attributes” include “his loyalty to the poor and dispossessed in not only Zimbabwe but among Africans everywhere.”
It’s not only relatively obscure characters like Egbuna who have given Mugabe props. Take Bill de Blasio, the current mayor of New York City, who, back in 2002, while serving in New York’s City Council, attended a reception welcoming the tyrant to City Hall and was present when the man delivered a speech in the council’s chamber – an honor that no legislative body in a democratic nation should ever have accorded to such a thug. After all, as New York Times reporter Clyde Haberman later observed, Mugabe, by 2002, was already “a certified human rights disaster.” Another journalist, Joel B. Pollak, has put it this way: “By the time Robert Mugabe visited New York’s City Hall in 2002, he was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe. His regime was torturing its opponents brutally…and cracking down on the media as it pushed white farmers off their land, destroying the country’s economy and plunging it into hyperinflation and starvation.” But de Blasio celebrated him.
More about this unconscionable act tomorrow.