In an interview with Aljazeera that was aired on April 3, the president defended his land redistribution policy, which has caused tension between Zimbabwe and Britain.

Mugabe, 82, has been Zimbabwe's leader since a guerrilla war led to the country's independence from Great Britain in 1980.

He has been accused of rigging elections in 2000 and criticised over his nation’s rights record, but he compared Zimbabwe's past with that of the United States.

"Human rights here are better than those of the United States. We never ran a system of slavery here," he said.

"Look at what happened in New Orleans. When you had Katrina... what did Bush do? He just folded his arms, and the people were drowning and dying."

Iraq invasion

He condemned the US and Britain over the invasion of Iraq, saying that instability would not end until foreign forces have withdrawn.

"Leaving things to the Americans and the British is actually destroying Iraq," he said, suggesting the formation of a UN body made up mostly of Arab nations to help end violence.

"Peace cannot come from the Europeans at all," he said. "It must come from the non-Europeans, because we of the Third World lost confidence in Europe. The Arabs have lost confidence in Europe."

Farm seizures

"It is better to have Mugabe in control than have Zimbabwe descend into chaos and murder"

Alfonso DeMaio,
North America

 

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Friction with the West openly began in 2000, when Mugabe ordered the seizure of commercial farms owned by descendants of white settlers, who ruled the country of 12 million before independence and controlled 70% of the arable land, although they numbered about 4,000.

But Mugabe said problems had surfaced three years earlier, when Britain and the US ended support for a programme intended to distribute land to black peasants.

He said that Britain and the US reneged on pledges - made when the country became independent - to fund land redistribution and that Zimbabwe had "no money to pay for your British farmers if we take the land."

How to pay for the land programme is the real source of friction, he said.

Since the confiscations started, the agricultural economy has been disrupted and there have been shortages of food, fuel and imports.

Inflation has sky-rocketed and in February reached 780%.

Mugabe acknowledged difficulties with the land programme, but blamed problems with agricultural production on a drought and difficulty in training and getting equipment for new commercial farmers.

Inflation soared to 780%
in February (file)
 

"It takes time to master the ABCs of farming," he said.

He insisted that the land is distributed fairly. "The land is given to anyone who wants it and can use it. It doesn't matter whether he’s an official or he’s a banker or he's a professor," he said.

Mugabe has been accused of using the programme to give land to supporters.

Tension

Mugabe, in the past, had blamed foreign sabotage for his country’s economic decline. He said the US and Britain were at fault for the tensions with Zimbabwe.

"We are not hostile to anyone," he said. "We are open to the rest of the world, provided the rest of the world recognises us as equals."

He said that Zimbabwe's natural allies lay in the East and that the West had lost credibility among Third World nations.

"If Europe would want to engage Africa, and indeed engage the Third World, including the Arab countries, China, India, Latin America. they must cleanse themselves of the past colonial theories ... that they alone are superior, they alone are thinkers, they alone are intelligent," he said.

Mugabe, the leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party, has been accused of rigging elections to remain in power since 2000. He recently said he would not allow protests by opposition parties to create upheaval.

In 2005, the African Union adopted a statement criticising Zimbabwe over the arrests and torture of opposition members of parliament and stifling freedom of expression.