Michigan State University trustees Friday stripped Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe of an honorary law degree it gave him in 1990, citing a pattern of human rights abuses and political repression.
Mugabe led the successful struggle to overcome White minority rule over what then was called Rhodesia. But he now faces wide domestic and international opposition because of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse and his crackdown on opponents.
A Zimbabwe diplomat said the board’s timing is odd − one day after Mugabe announced a power-sharing agreement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe, 84, has received more than 50 honorary degrees over the years, said Wilbert Gwashavanhu, political counselor at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington.
“If they want to revoke that honorary degree, he probably doesn’t even remember it,” Gwashavanhu told The Associated Press by telephone. “He has worked for his country. He’s a national hero.”
Michigan State said in July that it was considering whether to revoke the degree.
At the 1990 ceremony at which the honorary degree was conferred, then-Michigan State President John DiBiaggio said Mugabe was “a man who stands here on this stage before us, but he is also a man, I can tell you, who stands with us.”
Mugabe’s critics say he set off a sharp decline in his nation’s fortunes by ordering the seizure − at times by force − of White-owned farms in 2000, disrupting the economy’s agricultural base. Mugabe says the land reform program was meant to help poor Blacks, but critics claim much of the land went to his cronies.
Western nations widely denounced Mugabe’s recent election victory over Tsvangirai as a sham.
The University of Edinburgh in Scotland last year withdrew a degree awarded to Mugabe, and the University of Massachusetts did so in June. Also in June, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II canceled the knighthood Mugabe received in 1994.
“With recent elections in Zimbabwe, it became more evident than ever that President Mugabe had little regard for human rights or human life as he systematically eliminated all opposition to his presidency,” university President Lou Anna Simon said in a statement.
She said revoking an honorary degree “is not to be taken lightly.”
“This is the first time in MSU’s 153-year history that an honorary degree has been revoked,” Simon said.
Michigan State trustees approved the step unanimously Friday.
“Mugabe’s persistent acts of violence, aggression and intimidation … even in the face of substantive and regular international rebuke leave Michigan State University no choice but to act,” the board’s resolution said.
Gwashavanhu said his nation’s president was “a darling of the west” until he took on land redistribution. The embassy official criticized what he termed “foreign interference” in his nation’s affairs.
South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, with backing from other African leaders, sought to mediate the dispute between Mugabe and opponents, leading up to Thursday’s announced agreement.
“This is an African solution. Why would it concern anyone outside of Africa?” Gwashavanhu asked.
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