The Retired Dictators’ Old Age Home

New home for Robert Mugabe?

I say we let him move into the East Wing.

The Grauniad is reporting that the magnificently-monikered Lord Renton of Mount Harry (where the hell is Mount Harry? Who calls a mountain ‘Harry’?) yesterday proposed to the House of Lords that the most effective way for the British public to support the people of Zimbabwe would be to provide Robert Mugabe with a safe, comfortable home in the UK. The man is not a simple crackpot in the House thanks to a hereditary title based on land grabs in the 16th Century; he’s a former Minister in the Foreign Office under Thatcher.

Even leaving aside the fact that the current Government is trying to reduce rather than increase the burden of housing benefits in the UK, Lord Renton of Mount Harry may wish to reconsider. The basic idea of his proposal is clearly that getting Mugabe out will solve a lot of Zimbabwe’s problems. There might be some merit to this, but it really doesn’t seem like the best use of our resources for the following reasons:

  • He’s operating from the premise that Mugabe caused or is perpetuating Zimbabwe’s problems – in other words, he is buying into the classic western interpretation which attributes an astonishing amount of agency and blame to Mugabe. I’ve written before about how this view is misguided, saying “It’s almost as if all of the problems in Zimbabwe have been crystallised in one immense figure of villainy.” The problems in Zimbabwe stem from much deeper roots than the megalomania and incompetence of a single man, and will take far more to fix: indeed, getting rid of him may make almost no difference to Zimbabwe’s economic and social conditions.
  • Mugabe did institute and persecute some incredibly bad and damaging policies that have hampered the economy and polity of Zimbabwe – in my last piece on him, the comments mention some of them. The primary focus of efforts to improve the situation in Zimbabwe must be to establish what policies are needed to undo this damage and how they can be implemented. Getting rid of Mugabe might be part of this, but is probably not the most difficult or time consuming part. It’s only a matter of time before nature rids Zimbabwe of him anyway.
  • Lord Renton of Mount Harry may also wish to consider the moral hazard he creates if Mugabe gets a safe, comfortable life in the UK. Suddenly, every leader with aspirations of a country house in Cheshire knows what they need to do: oppress people horribly enough and long enough and you’ll either get a place to stay in England or in The Netherlands. Both come with guards.
  • In the context of riot-inducing cuts in other aspects of UK life, taxpayers may look unfavourably on purchasing, heating and guarding a home for an incredibly rich dictator (this can be avoided if he is simply allowed to live in an unoccupied wing of Buckingham Palace).
  • Finally, I think the people of Zimbabwe would be happier to democratic process or the passage of time improve political governance there. Bribery is not a good basis for democratic succession.

Any one care to stand up for Lord Renton? In his defence, a quick Google search suggests there are plenty of stately homes in Mount Harry that Mugabe could occupy.

UPDATE: Not to worry, Lord of Harry! According to my friends in Hong Kong, Mugabe already owns a US$ 5.7 Million house in Tai Po in Hong Kong. Maybe access to a safe and comfortable house isn’t the only thing stopping Bob from leaving his money-spinning job in Zimbabwe…

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