Addis Ababa – Not even gay men can suckle babies. This was one of the profound observations of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as he finished chairing the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the weekend.
Mugabe, who turns 91 this month, was controversially elected to chair the AU for this year at the start of the summit on Friday. This prompted concern that having him at the helm would damage the union’s relations with the West.
Mugabe remains under a travel ban in the European Union, the US and elsewhere and so questions have been asked about whether or not he will be able to represent the AU at important summits, such as those of the G8 and G20.
Mugabe dismissed those concerns at a press conference on Saturday night after the summit, saying: “I don’t know what the West will do or say. It’s not my business. My business is to ensure that the decisions we have arrived at here are implemented.
“They all have to do with the development of Africa.”
Mugabe said it was up to the West to continue with sanctions against himself and Zimbabwe or not, but that Europe “seems to be coming forth”. He described how a group of French business people had met him in Harare before the summit to discuss investing in Zimbabwe.
“If Europe comes forward in the spirit to co-operate, not in the spirit to control our ways, they will be very welcome.”
The AU commission chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who was with him, was asked to comment on Mugabe’s remark to a journalist earlier in the summit that it was impossible for women to be on a par with men.
She at first declined, saying Mugabe was there to speak for himself. He said Zimbabwe had been working for equal work and equal pay for women. It had women cabinet ministers, farmers and pilots.
But total parity was not possible, he suggested, “because we are different biologically… some things women can do, men cannot do… you can’t suckle babies, can you? Not even the gay ones can.”
Dlamini Zuma then said that in her experience Mugabe had always been supportive of women’s empowerment in Zimbabwe and beyond.
She did not know the context of Mugabe’s earlier remarks about women, but as he had just explained it he was correct. “We perform different biological functions and that’s fine.”
Independent Foreign Service