OUR CARIBBEAN: The Mugabe political gaffe on Jamaicans
Perhaps more than any other single member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), leading political, cultural and academic personalities from Jamaica have been quite consistent and fervent in influencing support for Zimbabwe and its leader Robert Mugabe prior to and since independence from Britain in April 1980.
Think, for instance, of the inspirational lyrics and joyful performances of the legendary Bob Marley and the militant support that successive People’s National Party governments in Kingston, particularly under Michael Manley’s leadership, and readers may be startled to learn of the very unkind criticisms against Jamaicans uttered last week by the once revered Zimbabwean revolutionary freedom fighter.
Now the 88-year-old head of state of that Southern African nation that he has been ruling by unchecked rigged elections, Mugabe said in a radio broadcast that Jamaican men were “drunkards . . . always high on marijuana . . .”. Further, said Mugabe, known to be a teetotaller, Jamaican men “are always smoking . . . free to light up”; and “have no interest in attending colleges . . .”. And then came his warning to Zimbabweans: “Don’t go there [Jamaica] . . . .”
According to a “clarification” sought by Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Mugabe’s criticisms of Jamaicans and Jamaica did not form part of his written address at a university event, as reported by Zimbabwe’s Nehanda Radio.
Surprising? It was indeed shocking, coming from the president of Zimbabwe, who was honoured with the Order Of Jamaica in 1996 while on a state visit to that country. Yet at this stage he seems to have conveniently forgotten Bob Marley’s famous Zimbabwe lyrics he once enthusiastically embraced.
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade A.J. Nicholson, in a telephone conversation earlier in the week, remarked that he did not wish to “make too much of President Mugabe’s unflattering comments.
“I prefer to regard what he said as misguided statements, expressed by a wayward brother in the winter of his years . . . . The Jamaica government and the people of Jamaica know that those negative comments by Mugabe do not represent the feelings of the people of Zimbabwe nor those of the other nations of Africa . . . .”
Jamaican writers and scholars may not be so gracious. Indeed, Horace Campbell, author of Rasta And Resistance: From Marcus Garvey To Walter Rodney, had in his much hailed Reclaiming Zimbabwe noted in 2003 as professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University in New York:
“Zimbabwe’s promise of liberation, democracy, majority rule and renewal has been shattered by executive lawlessness; state-sponsored violence and military intervention . . . [amid] the wretched conditions of millions of Zimbabweans.”
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.