GLOBAL: Mugabe - Man of many degrees

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been awarded a dozen or more honorary degrees from universities around the world, only to have at least three belatedly removed following widespread protests. Doubts have now surfaced whether he received an honorary doctorate last month from a university in Ecuador, or indeed whether it was bestowed by a 'bogus' bishop.

Mugabe is, however, a genuine university graduate having obtained a BA from the University of Fort Hare in 1951. He subsequently earned six further degrees through distance learning, including a BAdmin and BEd from the University of South Africa and a BSc, bachelor of laws, MSc and master of laws from the University of London's external programme.

The two law degrees were earned while he was in prison and the MSc while leading the Zimbabwe government

But his murderous and despotic reign has resulted in him becoming an outcast among Western nations, many of which have cut off diplomatic relations with his government.

After observers from the European Union were barred from examining Zimbabwe's 2002 elections, the EU imposed sanctions on Mugabe and 94 members of his government, banning them from travelling to participating countries and freezing any assets held there.

That year, the US instituted similar restrictions as did Australia, which downgraded government and cultural links and restricted travel to Australia by some Mugabe regime officials and cronies. A number of their children, however, are known to have studied at universities in Melbourne.

In June 2007 Mugabe became the first international figure to be stripped of an honorary degree by a British university when Edinburgh withdrew one it had awarded to him in 1984. The following year the University of Massachusetts revoked a law degree it had awarded in 1986 and the year after that, in September 2008, Michigan State University cancelled a law degree it had granted to Mugabe in 1990.

Some confusion, however, surrounds his latest honorary degree with questions as to when or if it was actually awarded and, if it was, whether it was bogus. A University World News story earlier this month said Mugabe had been forced to cancel a trip to Ecuador to receive a degree in civil law after opposition at home and abroad.

Mugabe was to have called in to Ecuador following a UN General Assembly meeting he attended in New York. But SW Africa Radio in London reported that Mugabe had cancelled the trip after revelations that an Ecuadorean Anglican bishop "who had conferred him with the doctorate in Harare was bogus and had previously been arrested for supplying arms to Colombian rebels".

The radio report said Bishop Walter Roberto Crespo, "who leads a discredited faction of the Anglicans in Ecuador", visited Zimbabwe to confer Mugabe with an honorary doctorate in civil law, claiming the honour was in recognition of his good leadership.

"Things changed dramatically after details of Bishop Crespo's past began to leak out in the media," the report said. "In 2001, the bishop was arrested and jailed for three years for supplying arms to the guerilla movement, Revolutionary Forces of Colombia. He was also implicated in the sale of anti-tank missiles and cluster bombs to the rebels for use in killing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe."

When news broke about the latest honorary degree, Professor Gregory Stanton, president of the international organisation Genocide Watch, wrote to Crespo saying:

"We will propose a resolution of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, which will meet in Buenos Aires in 2011, calling for this honorary degree for Mugabe to be cancelled. The International Association of Genocide Scholars has already passed resolutions denouncing Mugabe's genocide and crimes against humanity.

"We will launch campaigns in Ecuador and other members of the Organization of American States to get the honorary degree withdrawn. If necessary we will appeal to the head of the Anglican Church to get this honorary degree rescinded, if you decide to award it to this criminal."

Stanton has also drawn attention to the Gukurahundi massacres committed by Mugabe's North Korean trained troops in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces where an estimated 20,000 people were killed. These have been classified as genocide by Genocide Watch.

Stanton said the Mugabe regime had been trying "to sweep this atrocity under the rug for 30 years but this classification now means the perpetrators can be prosecuted no matter how much time has passed".

Other honours first awarded and then rescinded include a knighthood Mugabe received in 1994 when the UK's Queen Elizabeth appointed him an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath.

In 2003, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee called for the knighthood to be scrapped although it was another five years before the Queen cancelled it after advice from the Foreign Secretary who declared: "This action has been taken as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided".

* Wikipedia lists the many honours and revocations involving Mugabe in its account of his life and times.