Mauled by an old lion

How Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's Life President since 1980, bested CNN's Christiane Amampour.

Robert Mugabe at the 12th African Union Summit 2009 in Addis Ababa (Jesse B, via Flickr CC).

I finally had a chance to watch Christiane Amampour’s recent interview with Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe (to launch her new show), on CNN. I have some comments below, but first here is a link to the video of the interview so as not to influence your judgment. If you don’t like videos, here‘s a link to the transcript. When you’re done, keep reading.

So, let me just say: That was painful to watch.

Who did the research for the interview?

Mugabe certainly bested her. Mugabe was left to ramble on–unchallenged–about how Zimbabwe’s current state is all the fault of imperialism, sanctions and drought.

And he had plenty of time to grandstand and insult his opponents: At one point he referred to South African cleric and political leader, Desmond Tutu, for criticizing his undemocratic regime. Tutu was “devilish” and a “little man.”

I have to agree with the assessments of Zimbabweans like blogger Rashweat Mukundu writing at New Zimbabwe: “It came out, in my view, to a victory for Mugabe, if we take it as a contest.” Elsewhere blogger African Voices put it well: “… Amanpour was mauled by the old lion … The man has eight degrees–one in violence–and he’s no intellectual lightweight.”

Amampour displayed ignorance about Zimbabwe history (she created the impression like most Western journalism on Zimbabwe that politics started in 2000; even Mugabe, who was behind the murder of 20,000 people in Matabeleland in 1982, was apparently perfect before that). She also did not challenge Mugabe with specific instances of his regime’s well-documented trail of abuses: Where were the names, dates, events?

The one time she did–on MDC member of parliament Roy Bennett’s unlawful arrest–she had him stuttering, but then let him off easy.

One problem was her reference points: her white “Rhodesian” friends (“… some of the people I’ve worked with who were in the Rhodesian army, then became journalists in Rhodesia”). She also spoke of black farmworkers’ “shanty houses” sounding like they, the farmworkers, should have been happy with the “shanty houses.” Or maybe I was so irritated with her at that point, I projected.

Anyway, she could not stop repeating that sign of bad journalism: “Many people say …”

And more than that she asked nonsensical questions (“Are you jealous of Mandela?”) as well as had to be corrected (!) by Mugabe when she confused the “slum clearance” of poor Harare residents (“Operation Murambatsvina”) with government-sponsored attacks on black farm workers.

She also let him get away with calling farm workers who did not vote for him “aliens” and that “most of them [are] from Mozambique and — and — and Zambia”)

One consequence of the program, as Munyaradzi Munochiveyi (at The Zimbabwe Times) wrote, is this: “Mugabe again emerges as the champion of formerly dispossessed blacks and thus a victim of neo-colonial racists who want to perpetuate white settler interests in Zimbabwe… Amanpour give Mugabe the perfect platform to justify and whitewash his horrendous land reform program, his state-sponsored terror in rural Zimbabwe, and his total disregard for the rule of law and democracy.”

I am tired.

Further Reading

Bananas and Baboons

This time, R.W. Johnson, the British-South African writer, had gone too far even for the London Review of Books ‘ editors. They took down a post of his.