PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe defended his record as the head of the southern African country now reeling from runaway inflation and unemployment — saying drought and sanctions were the cause of the country’s problems, not his policies.
In an interview on Wednesday with the Associated Press, Mugabe also absolved police forces that last week violently suppressed labour demonstrators in the capital Harare.
He said his controversial land reform programme, in which white farmers were forced to turn over their land six years ago, would yet prove successful.
Speaking in the late afternoon shortly after delivering his country’s address at the annual opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the 82-year-old president, appeared weary and reflective.
He wore an elegant charcoal suit, set off with a deep red tie and handkerchief, and leaned back in his chair. His voice was soft as he spoke of still having some “muscle” in him.
Once hailed as a freedom fighter, Mugabe in recent years has been pilloried, particularly in Europe, for what critics call erratic and despotic management and the denial of human rights.
Unrest in Zimbabwe, where annual inflation reached a record 1 204% in August, the highest in the world, erupted again last week. Police and soldiers broke up a march by unionists planning anti-government marches across the country.
Asked about police actions, Mugabe said he did not know the details but blamed the “overzealousness of one or two police, exaggerating their role”.
The country’s economy is on the mend, he said. “Our inflation, we are fighting that, and there is no hunger anymore, and we have a bumper harvest, so there is enough maize in the country,” he said.
He also said that his government remains popular and the world should not believe the critics inside Zimbabwe, whom he accused of being in the pay of outside governments, making a pointed reference to Britain. “I don’t know what they tell the world, but — take care — I do not think they are telling the whole truth, just as their master at No 10 Downing Street.”
In the interview, he said: “We are more democratic than the average country in the developing world. We are very, very democratic.”
Of his political opponents, he said: “Oh, they are in parliament and they should do their business in parliament, criticise government as much as possible. We don’t hate them.”
But he did direct verbal fire at the United States, which he had described in his speech as a Goliath, adding “Every Goliath has his own day”.
He said the world is growing angry at the United States and Britain for the war in Iraq.
“You cannot go out on a campaign of aggression with impunity. One day obviously there will be the reaction.”
He also accused the United States of fanning the recent war in Lebanon between Israelis and Hizbollah guerilla fighters. “I think someone was pushing Israel from behind, it was the United States and naively also Britain acquiesced in it, and now (Prime Minister Tony) Blair is in trouble for having done that.”
In comments to the Associated Press last year, Mugabe said that he planned to leave the presidency in 2008. On Wednesday, however, he declined to specify when — only that “I think the day will come soon”.
Asked what he wanted his legacy to be, Mugabe said: “That of an independent country that will be defended against outsiders and that also ensures the people derive maximum benefits from it.
“We want a state that is developed, so that is the legacy I want, the road to a Zimbabwe that is highly developed.”
He said that he is becoming hardened to criticism and would never be driven from power except in a democratic vote. He also laughed about the hatred he inspires among some media, especially in Britain.
“Oh goodness me. I don’t know a person they hate more than they do me,” he said. “I don’t know what I have done. They never were in love with me, from day one, even as we were waging our struggle,” he said. — AP.