Mugabe says of Obama’s gay rights push, ‘We ask, was he born out of homosexuality?’

July 25, 2013

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks at an election rally in Chitungwiza. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe railed against President Obama during a recent campaign rally, arguing that the U.S. president wanted to force Africa to "embrace homosexuality," according to the Herald, a Zimbabwean newspaper that the Economist describes as "state controlled" and "slavishly pro-Mugabe."

The African leader often criticizes homosexuality or other perceived enemies to gin up populist support, but the turn against Obama included a new comment.

"Then we have this American president, Obama, born of an African father, who is saying we will not give you aid if you don’t embrace homosexuality," Mugabe said, according to the Herald. "We ask, was he born out of homosexuality? We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality. John and John, no; Maria and Maria, no." He then broke briefly into Shona, a native Zimbabwean language, before concluding, it's not clear about whom, "If they don’t, we will cut their heads off."

Mugabe also reiterated his oft-repeated comparison between homosexuals and pigs. "They are worse than dogs and pigs, yes worse than dogs and pigs," he said. "I keep pigs and the male pig knows the female one." Parts of the speech, including some of the swipe at Obama, were independently reported in the Zimbabwean outlet NewsDay.

Mugabe is facing reelection on July 31. It's the country's first presidential vote since a violence-ridden 2008 election that was met with such international outcry that Mugabe was forced to accept a power-sharing arrangement with one of his rivals, though he has appeared to largely maintain power. Mugabe has run Zimbabwe since 1980 and is now 89 years old but shows no signs of ceding power willingly.

Attitudes toward homosexuality are negative in much of sub-Saharan Africa, where homophobia is often used by populist leaders looking for an easy enemy or a way to divert from tougher issues. The Obama administration's plan to support gay rights in Africa has at times been met with a backlash and a belief among some that the United States wishes to impose homosexuality on Africans.

Just for good measure, Mugabe also criticized Britain, which he called, in an almost word-for-word reproduction of long-held North Korean propaganda tropes, "a very cold, uninhabitable country with small houses."

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Caitlin Dewey · July 25, 2013