I Tried To Ask A Dictator About His Regime --  And Things Got Weird

Robert MugabeReutersZimbabwean President Robert Mugabe with his security details.

According to his critics, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is a dictator who is responsible for, among other things, political repression, arbitrary arrests, “torture and extrajudicial execution,” mass political violence, and a military operation in the early 1980’s that left approximately 20,000 civilians dead.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is in New York City this week to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. I attempted to speak to him at the event — and things got a little awkward.

My interactions with Mugabe occurred on Wednesday at the delegates entrance to the General Assembly. Members of the press were allowed to stand in a pen adjacent to the entrance where they could ask questions of the various heads of state and diplomats as they came and went.

Mugabe and his entourage arrived shortly after 1 p.m. I asked if he would come speak to the press. The 90-year-old leader had no visible reaction to my question and kept walking. I then asked about recent speculation he may be positioning his wife, Grace, to succeed him.

“Is Grace taking over?” I asked.

Once again, Mugabe ignored the question and he walked out of sight.

A little over five minutes later a heavily accented man in a suit came up to me and angrily demanded to know my name and who I worked for. I initially thought the man was one of the UN media officers since one of the UN security guards had complained about members of the press asking questions of the delegates.

I told the man I worked for Business Insider. He asked if it was an American news organisation and I offered to give him a business card. As I handed the man my card, I saw his badge and realised he was a delegate and not UN staff.

I asked what country he represented and why he wanted to know who I was, but he ignored my questions. The man angrily snatched my business card, and walked away. However, I had a sinking suspicion he was a member of the Zimbabwean delegation.

About two hours later, Mugabe and his entourage walked by the press again as they departed the UN. I recognised the man who had taken my card earlier walking alongside the president.

As Mugabe left, I again asked if he would come speak to the press. A reporter from Reuters shouted questions about Zimbabwe’s inflation woes. I also asked Mugabe about the description often used by his opponents.

“Critics call you a dictator,” I said. “What do you say to them.”

Mugabe stared forward seemingly unaware of the questions as he and his men left the building.

He is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Thursday.

Watch a video of my second attempt to speak to Mugabe below.

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