Whatever one’s thoughts on the illegal hunting of Cecil the lion (and the mass outrage that followed), the issue has, at least to some degree, brought attention to another, much bigger travesty in Zimbabwe: the brutal and capricious rule of Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest national leader, and one of its longest-standing dictators.
A mere excerpt of the New Yorker’s piece on the man offers but a glimpse of his frequently cruel and at times tragicomic rule, which has persisted unabated since 1987.
Four months before a Minnesota dentist killed Cecil the lion, Mugabe celebrated his ninety-first birthday with a feast of wildlife. The menu included dishes of young elephant, killed especially for a party with twenty thousand of Mugabe’s supporters. Another elephant was killed so that constituents could celebrate, too. Mugabe was presented with a lion trophy and a crocodile trophy that were to be stuffed.
Mugabe’s birthday feast was held just four days before World Wildlife Day, on March 3rd. “It’s time to get serious about wildlife crime”, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the time.
By 2006, the Times reported, toilet paper cost more than four hundred Zimbabwean dollars. That was for a single two-ply sheet—a full roll cost more than a hundred and forty-five thousand Zimbabwean dollars. Inflation neared eighty billion per cent in 2008 and 2009, the world’s highest rate, The Economist reported. A single egg cost fifty billion Zimbabwean dollars. The government printed a hundred-trillion-dollar bill. It began abandoning its largely worthless currency, in favor of eight foreign currencies, including the U.S. dollar. The process of demonetization is being completed this summer. In June, when it started, an American dollar could buy thirty-five quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars.
Poverty has seriously worsened. Mugabe describes himself as both a practicing Catholic and a Marxist, but his birthday party was held at the Elephant Hills golf resort, near Victoria Falls, just up the road from the haunts of Cecil. Mugabe was honored with seven birthday cakes. One was so large that it had to be carried in by eight men; another was described as the size of a mattress. The celebration reportedly cost a million American dollars, in a country that now suffers up to ninety-five per cent unemployment and underemployment, according to the C.I.A.’s World Factbook. (Mugabe conceded during his last election, in 2013, that at least sixty per cent of his countrymen were jobless). Three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population lives below the poverty line.
This is not to say that people should not be angered at the illicit killing of an endangered animal (with the complicity of corrupt government officials in Zimbabwe). But while all eyes are –or at this point, were — focused on this otherwise overlooked African country, we might as well highlight one of the world’s biggest yet understated humanitarian catastrophes…not that it may do much good, given the global community’s track record.