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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe says of Trump: ‘Give him time’

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks during a surprise birthday party held in Harare to mark his 93rd birthday. (Aaron Ufumeli/European Pressphoto Agency)

Ahead of his 93rd birthday on Tuesday, longtime Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe offered his thoughts on President Trump.

“I do not know him. Give him time,” Mugabe said during an interview with state television, the Zimbabwe Herald reported Monday.

The Zimbabwean president also suggested that Trump might reexamine long-standing U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe. In the interview, Mugabe also said that he had not wanted Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election, noting that she would have probably continued the sanctions against Zimbabwe — as President Barack Obama had.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, on the one hand, talking of American nationalism, well, America for America, America for Americans — on that we agree,” Mugabe added. “Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.”

Mugabe is generally known for his fiery and sometimes remarkably inventive anti-Western rhetoric — he memorably described Britain as a “very cold and uninhabitable” country with “very small” houses. His relatively positive comments about an American president are unusual.

But the Zimbabwean president has already suggested that he viewed his unorthodox new American counterpart as a good development personally. During a meeting with U.S. lawmakers in July, Mugabe is reported to have said: “Once Trump is your president, you’ll wish you’d been friendlier to me.”

Mugabe may well hope that Trump will reconsider Zimbabwe's status as an international pariah state, perhaps even ending the sanctions first put in place by George W. Bush after the Zimbabwean president was accused of undermining democracy and stripping property from white farmers. In 2013, it was estimated that Western sanctions on Zimbabwe had cost the country $42 billion.

Mugabe was once a lauded freedom fighter, but since becoming leader of Zimbabwe in 1980, he has cracked down on the country's political opposition and shown little sign of any plans to leave office — despite widespread questions about his health and frequent visits to overseas clinics.

Mugabe said recently that he intended to run again in 2018, a claim he repeated in the new interview with state television. In the past, he has suggested that he wanted to live until at least 100 and rule for life.

His wife, Grace Mugabe, suspected by some of plotting an attempt to take over the country, said last week that her husband could run even if he dies before 2018. “If God decides to take him, then we would rather field him as a corpse,” she said at a rally in the eastern city of Buhera.

Whether Trump would help Mugabe by putting Zimbabwe on his agenda seems unclear, however. The U.S. president has spoken little of sub-Saharan Africa since entering the White House; he is believed to have spoken to only two sub-Saharan African leaders by phone, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma.

Despite a memorable “Saturday Night Live” sketch that showed Trump phoning Mugabe (and getting an earful from him), Trump has yet to demonstrate any official interest in Zimbabwe. The Daily News, an independent newspaper often critical of Mugabe, suggested that this was a “snub” to the Zimbabwean president and a sign of U.S. concern about the risks of being associated with his regime.

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