Monday, July 6, 2009



By Brian Latham

July 6 (Bloomberg)

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe described U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson as an “idiot” after meeting with him briefly on July 2.

In a transcript of an interview published on the Web site of the state-controlled Herald newspaper today, Mugabe said of Carson, “Who is he? I hope he was not speaking for” President Barack Obama.

“You wouldn’t speak to an idiot of that nature,” Mugabe said of the diplomat. “I was very angry with him, and he thinks he could dictate to us what to do.”

The meeting was the first between Mugabe and a U.S. official in several years, prompting speculation of a thaw in relations. It took place on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Sirte, Libya.

“I told him he was a shame, a great shame being an African-American,” the newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly described Carson as the U.S.’s “most experienced diplomat in African affairs.”

“He’s one of the most talented people we have, and I don’t see why anybody could use those kinds of characterizations,” Kelly told reporters in Washington without elaborating on the meeting itself.

Strained Relations

Relations between Zimbabwe and the U.S. have been strained for a decade, with the U.S. accusing Mugabe’s government of human-rights abuses and economic mismanagement. Mugabe has increasingly looked to Africa and allies like China and Iran to end both the country’s political and economic crises.

“We have the whole of the Southern African Development Community working with us, and you have the likes of little fellows like Carson, you see, wanting to say ‘you do this, you do that,’” Mugabe said in the interview in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

Mugabe also said that Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had apologized for the boycott of a cabinet meeting by the Movement for Democratic Change last week.

“It was a surprise to me,” Mugabe said. “It’s insolence on one hand, but it’s also abysmal ignorance on the other.”

The MDC and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union party formed a unity government this year to help resolve the country’s political and economic crisis. Tsvangirai’s deputy, Thokozani Khupe, has said the MDC reserves the right to “disengage” from the coalition, while Tsvangirai said on June 30 that there were no plans to pull out of the government.

Africa will increasingly look toward itself and the East for development, while ignoring Western assistance, Mugabe also said in the interview.

Western aid comes “in a crooked way to serve their own political objectives,” Mugabe said. “The Chinese fund does not come that way,” he added, referring to a $950 million loan Zimbabwe signed with China last week.