ZIMBABWE: US university may strip Mugabe of degree

Trustees of the University of Massachusetts will rule next month on whether to strip Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of an honorary degree awarded him two decades ago. Last year the University of Edinburgh revoked a degree given to the increasingly despotic leader, and revocation petitions have also been lodged at Michigan State University.

Mugabe received an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Massachusetts in 1986 for his pivotal role in bringing majority rule to the Southern African country in 1980. But university president Jack Wilson has recommended the degree be revoked because of the Zimbabwean leader's increasingly oppressive and destructive rule. Hundreds of people have been assaulted and many killed in recent years, more than a million have fled the country and the economy has collapsed, resulting in widespread unemployment and poverty.

The Massachusetts board of trustees will decide on 21 June whether to grant Wilson's request after rejecting a similar recommendation made by students last year. The board refused then, saying the move was unprecedented since 1885, when the university started recognising world leaders and other distinguished individuals. Among those it has honoured are former South African president Nelson Mandela, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and comedian and educator Bill Cosby.

In 2007, Edinburgh University in the UK stripped Mugabe of an honorary degree granted in 1984 "for services to education in Africa." Scottish MP Nigel Griffiths prepared a dossier for university officials outlining reasons why Mugabe was no longer fit to be honored. Petitions have also been lodged at Michigan State University to strip the Zimbabwean president of an honorary degree he was awarded during the 1990s.
In an interview with University World News, Zimbabwe's deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said: "Anything they [universities] do amounts to nothing. This is part of a propaganda war being waged against the country."

When Edinburgh University took action against Mugabe, his spokesperson George Charamba said the aging leader would not lose sleep over the revocation and in any case had plenty of degrees, earned by him or bestowed upon him.

"If anything, western universities improved their international profile by associating with the President," Charamba said "President Mugabe has read for seven degrees. He has honorary degrees from Africa, Asia, former Eastern Europe, Europe and America. Honorary degrees are exactly that, an unsolicited honour from the giver. The President did not accost anyone to confer the honour."