Wikileaks: Mugabe tells of friendship with George H.W. Bush




    REF: A. HARARE 444

    B. 08 HARARE 140

    Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).




    1. (SBU) On May 30 President Robert Mugabe received

    Congressmen Donald Payne (D-NJ), Ambassador McGee, and

    staffers at his State House office for a nearly

    three-hour-long meeting. Throughout the marathon meeting

    Mugabe was alert, articulate, in apparent good health, and

    defiant. Congressman Payne gently and masterfully praised

    Mugabe for his liberation credentials before confronting him

    about human rights abuses. Mugabe neither confirmed nor

    denied the abuses. His version of Zimbabwe,s history, which

    he explained in an hour-long monologue, painted him as the

    victim of international abuse and broken promises — largely

    led by Britain and George W. Bush. Despite his defiance,

    Mugabe articulated his deep desire for acceptance into the

    international community again, although he did not offer to

    make any concessions or policy revisions that would lead to

    Zimbabwe’s full reintegration in the community of nations.

    The meeting covered a wide range of topics including a

    discussion of last year’s elections, and finally a friendly

    chat over tea about pirates in Somalia, South African

    politics, and the global economic crisis. END SUMMARY.

    2. (SBU) On the occasion of the visit of Congressman Donald

    Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa

    and Global Health, the Ambassador and a group of staffers met

    with President Mugabe at State House on May 30. The two-hour

    and forty minute long meeting was cordial, despite Payne’s

    direct confrontation of Mugabe on human rights abuses. This

    was the first private meeting we have had with President

    Mugabe since the Ambassador last called on him in February

    2008 (ref B). It was also by far the longest of the four

    meetings Ambassador McGee has had with the president during

    his assignment. President Mugabe was accompanied by Minister

    of Agriculture Joseph Made, Americas Division Chief from the

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Sengwe, and the MFA

    United States desk officer Energy Chawonetka. Congressman

    Payne and the Ambassador were accompanied by poloff and

    professional congressional staffers Dr. Pearl-Alice Marsh,

    Noelle LuSane, and Ted Dagne.


    Stuck in the Past: Mugabe’s

    Revisionist History Lesson


    3. (C) Mugabe opened the meeting by thanking Payne for his

    visit, commenting that Zimbabwe hadn’t had many visitors

    lately. He then launched into a one-hour lecture explaining

    Zimbabwe’s history, from the arrival of British colonials a

    century ago, through the liberation war, the Lancaster House

    agreement, and up until the present. Although his voice

    trailed at times, he spoke clearly and logically and only

    turned to Minister Made and Ambassador Sengwe occasionally to

    be reminded of specific names and dates. Predictably, Mugabe

    Qbe reminded of specific names and dates. Predictably, Mugabe

    described land as the "number one grievance" of the people at

    the Lancaster House negotiations that led to Zimbabwe’s

    independence in 1980. He spoke highly of the willingness of

    the Carter administration to help fund land reform. His tone

    changed to dismay and embitterment as he described the policy

    reversal during the Reagan and subsequent Bush (Bush 1)

    administrations that stopped the funding for land reform.

    4. (C) Mugabe spoke fondly of George H.W. Bush, noting that

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    they became friends when Bush was Reagan’s vice president and

    that he later visited Washington at President Bush’s

    invitation. Mugabe was dismayed, however, that Bush agreed

    only to restore health assistance and not the land reform

    assistance he believes was promised at Lancaster House.

    Mugabe further bitterly recalled the dismissive letter from

    then-Development Minister Clare Short that denied British

    responsibility for continued funding of land reform.

    5. (C) Speaking more forcefully and loudly, Mugabe went on to

    describe former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s response

    to Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform. Mugabe explained that

    because Blair "couldn’t honestly say Zimbabwe was wrong"

    Blair had to "look for the usual thing (to fault Zimbabwe) —

    democracy, human rights, rule of law." Frustrated, Mugabe

    explained that the Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) tried to seek

    intervention from the EU president at the time, Jacques

    Chirac, who refused to hear the issue. "So," Mugabe sighed,

    "we were to be condemned by Britain for following tenets of

    democracy that they never obeyed. And then the sanctions


    6. (C) Reaching this point in history, Mugabe became

    increasingly adamant and agitated, as he asked, "in the

    context of all the countries in the world — are we really

    the worst?" Mugabe then, predictably, said that the Zimbabwe

    Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) and sanctions had

    caused the suffering of the Zimbabwean people and should be

    lifted. He went on to deny turning away from democracy,

    recalling that he was in prison for 11 years because he

    fought for democracy.


    Dismissive Tone Towards MDC


    7. (C) Having completed his hour-long history lecture, Mugabe

    turned to recent events. He spoke more slowly and carefully

    and in a way that subtly dismissed the Movement for

    Democratic Change (MDC). For instance, he described the 2008

    elections as "controversial" because the MDC and ZANU-PF had

    nearly tied. He carefully explained the parliamentary

    results by saying that ZANU-PF had a narrow majority in

    parliament. (NOTE: This is true only because he included the

    Senate in his math, which includes numerous seats that he

    personally appoints. END NOTE.) When the MDC refused to

    participate in the June 2008 run-off, Mugabe said some

    refused to accept the results "for political reasons."

    Despite winning the run-off, Mugabe explained that even if he

    had wanted to form a government, with only a small majority

    in parliament he needed to rely on others. Consequently,

    they relied on recommendations from SADC. Mugabe appeared

    increasingly uncomfortable in his seat as he explained the

    structure of the inclusive government and said it was working

    well "so far."

    8. (C) He acknowledged that there were a few "sticking

    issues" in the agreement — which he described as an

    "intermarriage" — including governorships, permanent

    Q"intermarriage" — including governorships, permanent

    secretaries and ambassadorial appointments. (NOTE: He did not

    mention the continued controversial appointments of Reserve

    Bank Governor Gideon Gono or Attorney General Johannes Tomana

    as outstanding issues. END NOTE.) On the issue of governors,

    he said that their appointments were the "prerogative of the

    president" but he agreed to make changes in the "spirit" of

    the agreement. Although Tsvangirai wants to make the

    appointments "now," Mugabe said that would not be fair and

    noted that the governors would be given two to three months’

    notice before being asked to vacate their seats. (NOTE:

    Separately we learned the governors will likely be sworn-in

    in August. END NOTE.)

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    9. (C) Regarding permanent secretaries, Mugabe said that the

    six principals (himself, the two vice presidents, the prime

    minister, and the two deputy prime ministers) had

    re-evaluated the permanent secretaries in each of the

    ministries. He appeared to dismiss the exercise, which he

    described as a "review" of the Public Service Commission

    (PSC) appointments. (NOTE: The PSC is a semi-independent body

    heavily biased towards ZANU-PF. All of the permanent

    secretaries, who oversee internal ministerial operations,

    have maintained their positions after the review by the six

    principals. END NOTE.)

    10. (C) Regarding ambassadorships, Mugabe confirmed that new

    ambassadors would be a mix of appointments from MDC-T, MDC-M

    and ZANU-PF as ambassadors’ terms end or they retire from

    diplomatic service. He also noted that Zimbabwe will re-open

    its embassy in Dakar, Senegal.


    Mugabe on the Economy


    11. (C) Turning to the economy, Mugabe opined that while the

    sanctions are allegedly targeted, perhaps they are designed

    to affect the economy as well. He noted that the

    agricultural sector was the mainstay of the economy, and that

    manufacturing had suffered recently because of its reliance

    on agricultural outputs. Mugabe remarked that Zimbabwe has

    rich mining resources yet to be tapped, mentioning gold and

    platinum specifically. Regarding diamonds, Mugabe said they

    have not yet established exactly where the deposits are.

    Finally, while there are uranium deposits in the north,

    Zimbabwe doesn’t intend to "go nuclear" like some countries

    have done, he commented with a giggle.


    Mugabe on Zimbabwe’s Golden Age of Education


    12. (C) Mugabe then turned back to his history lesson as he

    explained the educational reforms undertaken in the early

    1980s. He went on to describe in detail a plan with Cuba to

    train math and science teachers that arose from Zimbabwe’s

    hosting of the non-aligned countries in 1986. Because

    sanctions on Cuba proved to be too much of a burden, the math

    and science university was established in Bindura, Zimbabwe

    rather than Cuba.


    Lift the Sanctions


    13. (C) After talking non-stop for over an hour — and

    without so much as a sip of water or a clearing of the throat

    — Mugabe turned to Congressman Payne and the Ambassador in a

    much more engaged fashion. He said he was happy Payne had

    come, and summarized the priorities for Zimbabwe: food,

    education, infrastructure such as roads, and — above all —

    land. He noted that the manufacturing sector is struggling

    and that Zimbabwe wants to recover. The way to recover, he

    said, is by lifting sanctions. Mugabe continued by declaring

    that "we want to engage with the world," as he cited the

    international organizations that Zimbabwe ascribes to,

    Qinternational organizations that Zimbabwe ascribes to,

    including the United Nations and World Bank. He continued,

    "we want to play our role as a free Zimbabwe in a free world.

    Why should we be punished for sins we’ve not committed?

    Perhaps you’ve brought us the flag of freedom to lift

    sanctions." He spoke with cautious optimism as he noted that

    the "problem" with American sanctions is that you have

    congress and the administration, and you don’t know where to

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    Payne Praises and Confronts Mugabe


    14. (C) After listening attentively, Congressman Payne

    finally addressed Mugabe and began by praising him for his

    liberation credentials. Payne noted that he had been

    Mugabe’s "fan" as a young person and throughout the

    liberation movement in Zimbabwe. He recalled that Mugabe had

    received significant support from Americans for standing up

    to the Rhodesians and fighting for voting rights and

    education for Zimbabwe’s blacks. Payne skillfully noted that

    he had followed Mugabe’s "distinguished" career since its

    inception but noted that he is now concerned about the things

    he reads.

    15. (C) Payne continued carefull, saying that all countries

    have problems, including the United States, but that we have

    a system to clean it up and prosecute wrongdoers. He noted

    that we want to see the people of Zimbabwe have a better life

    and his tremendous admiration for the Zimbabwean people.

    However, the administration will make determinations on

    sanctions, but usually it will not make a change until there

    is evidence that changes have been made to correct what was


    16. (C) Payne cited the Obama administration’s recent changes

    to the policy towards Cuba to allow for remittances and

    visits as an example that there is a willingness of the new

    administration to change old policies. However, Payne noted,

    we can’t make changes to the Zimbabwe policy as long as we

    continue to see people getting arrested for "no reason." He

    noted the "dichotomy" between the compassionate statesman who

    fought for freedom that he respects and the current

    government that now allows police to beat black women who

    dare protest.

    17. (C) As Payne confronted him, Mugabe sank into the couch

    and appeared expressionless and somewhat stunned. At the

    mention of police beating women, he responded with a puzzled

    look, "Which women? Where did they get them from?" The

    Ambassador and Payne cited Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)

    protests as an example of women who have been beaten, and

    Mugabe went on the defensive, saying that they were

    manipulating and creating problems to seek more donor funds

    from their sponsors.

    18. (C) Payne continued by commenting that citizens have a

    right to agitate and governments have a duty to protect them.

    He noted that Mugabe started as a civil agitator and spent

    11 years in prison for it. "I was a civil agitator, too. I

    wouldn’t be in congress if I hadn’t been a civil agitator."

    19. (C) Continuing with his cautious, but firm approach,

    Payne noted that the new administrations in Zimbabwe and the

    U.S. are an opportunity for change. He explained the "smart

    power" doctrine to establish more peace, more justice, and

    more smart power. He invited Zimbabwe to be part of these new

    attitudes, but said that there have to be some changes in



    20. (C) The Ambassador continued by noting that the USG

    approach to Zimbabwe had changed in subtle but significant

    ways in recent months and reaffirmed our desire to see the

    inclusive government work. He described the visit as an

    opportunity for dialogue "if we can talk about issues." He

    raised the issue of the American-owned property in the Save

    Valley Conservancy that is currently under threat (ref A) and

    the issues of credit to farmers as issues up for discussion,

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    but reiterated that the USG wants to see conditions change.

    Payne again reiterated that we share the goal of having

    positive relations with Zimbabwe and noted that he and others

    in congress want to see the U.S. end isolationist policies.

    21. (C) Mugabe responded well to Payne’s gentle confrontation

    and noted that "we’ve never taken a decision to have a

    hostile relationship with anyone — especially you. You were

    there when we started." Payne noted that it is a new day and

    there is hope for more dialogue.


    Tea Time


    22. (C) At the end of the fairly confrontational discussion,

    Mugabe commented, "well, I think we deserve some tea," at

    which point a white-gloved butler emerged and began the very

    formal process of serving tea. After the butler poured water

    over the guest’s hands into a bowl and offered each guest a

    clean towel to dry their hands, the butler served tea,

    parmesan bread sticks, dinner rolls, sausage, and a

    beef/onion dish. Mugabe took his tea with milk and a few

    bread sticks but did not eat anything else.

    23. (C) Over tea, the conversation mellowed significantly and

    Mugabe engaged Payne about his recent trip to Somalia and

    asked about the Somali pirates, South Africa, and the global



    Mugabe on South Africa


    24. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s questions about the

    new administration in South Africa, Mugabe noted that it is

    "still the ANC" but sighed that he didn’t think they treated

    Thabo well, particularly as he was in the midst of helping

    Zimbabwe. Mugabe continued to note that "to us (Mbeki) is a

    great man." He told the delegation that he will be giving

    Mbeki an award, something that "even Tsvangirai" agreed to.

    Mugabe described Mbeki as "judgmental and calculating" and

    cautious with policies. In contrast, Mugabe considers Zuma a

    "man of the people" who likes to make promises without

    necessarily knowing how to fulfill them. He noted that the

    South African people want to see their social needs attended

    to. While Zuma has made promises, it remains to be seen if

    they will come true. Mugabe opined that in order to fulfill

    his campaign promises, Zuma will have to take from the haves

    — the whites — and give to the have-nots. The question,

    Mugabe believed, is if they (the whites) are willing to share

    their businesses with blacks. He said it was "easier" in

    Zimbabwe where there were "not that many whites," but "South

    Africa has four million whites… plus the Indians." He

    trailed off, remarking that South Africa "truly is a rainbow


    25. (C) As the tea cups emptied, the Ambassador informed

    Mugabe that the Congressman was on his way to meet

    businessmen and we needed to be on our way. Mugabe seemed to

    be enjoying himself as he engaged on Somalia and South Africa

    in a non-confrontational and exceedingly normal diplomatic

    conversation. He appeared almost sad to see us go. If the

    Qconversation. He appeared almost sad to see us go. If the

    Ambassador had not ended the meeting, we could have well been

    there another thirty minutes.


    Mugabe: Possibly the Healthiest

    85-year-old in Zimbabwe


    HARARE 00000456 006 OF 006

    26. (C) Throughout the lengthy meeting, Mugab was alert and

    engaged. We noted, however, that he could not sit still.

    Although he was seated on a soft, comfortable leather sofa,

    he adjusted his weight to the left and right, and then later

    sat on the forward edge of the sofa and then slouched to the

    back, almost constantly. At times he appeared to be leaning

    heavily on the right arm rest, as if to alleviate pressure

    from sitting. He also constantly pulled up his socks.

    Despite previous rumors of possible throat cancer, we noted

    that his voice was fairly strong although he did speak softly

    at times during the first hour. Aside from frequent

    shifting, he rarely cleared his throat and appeared to be a

    vigorous 85-year-old in superb health.




    27. (C) This extraordinarily long meeting was surreal, and

    Congressman Payne is to be commended for his suave

    confrontation of Mugabe. As an older African American who

    rooted for the liberation struggle, Payne connected with

    Mugabe in a way few probably can. While Mugabe did not

    acknowledge or apologize for the human rights abuses, he

    didn’t deny the possibility that police had used excessive


    28. (C) Mugabe is clearly stuck in the past, as evidenced by

    his longwinded rehashing of Zimbabwe’s history. Furthermore,

    based on Mugabe’s interpretation of sanctions and his

    international isolation, he clearly believes he has done the

    right thing along the way and has been betrayed by the West

    and their broken promises. His continued refusal to

    acknowledge the human rights abuses and stifled political

    environment represent a serious disconnect between his view

    of the world and the realities the Zimbabwean people struggle

    with every day. Nonetheless, Mugabe appears desperate to

    re-engage with the world and to be treated as an elder

    statesman. He appeared genuinely appreciative and relaxed

    when the Ambassador asked for his opinions on South Africa.

    Overall, this meeting was a success. In a subsequent dinner

    with other western ambassadors serving in Harare, the

    ambassadors indicated that perhaps they, too, would seek

    meetings with Mugabe and attempt to slowly re-engage with the

    recalcitrant leader. END COMMENT.