Longtime Zimbabwean dictator and President Robert Mugabe has won China's version of the Nobel Peace Prize. Beating a list of candidates that included Microsoft founder Bill Gates and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Mugabe was awarded the 2015 Confucius Prize, the Guardian reported Thursday.
“Ever since Robert Mugabe was sworn in as the president of Zimbabwe in the 1980s, he has worked hard to bring political and economic order to the country and to improve the welfare of the Zimbabwean people by overcoming hardship,” the prize committee said, according to the Guardian.
Mugabe has been the president of Zimbabwe since 1987, and his rule has been marked by accusations of human rights violations. The award sparked criticism from human rights groups and opposition politicians.
In addition to praising Mugabe’s rule at home, the Chinese prize committee also highlighted his chairmanship of the African Union. Mugabe has long turned to China for financial support. However, the award comes at a moment when China has put pressure on Zimbabwe to repay more than $1 billion in loans made over the last five years, Reuters reported.
The worsening economic situation has caused Mugabe to tone down his anti-Western rhetoric, with experts saying the leader may have to turn to the International Monetary Fund, a group he has referred to as the “devil” in the past, for help.
Mugabe joins a list of other strongman leaders who have been awarded the prize, including former Cuban President Fidel Castro who won in 2014 and Russian President Vladimir Putin who won in 2011.
Similar to Mugabe, Putin was praised for his ability to bring stability to Russia. “His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war [Chechnya] impressed the Russians a lot, and he was regarded to be capable of bringing safety and stability to Russia," the committee’s statement said in 2011.
A member of the committee that awards the prize said in 2011 that the Nobel Peace Prize had “gone too far from peace” and that Western values needed to be balanced with an alternative award, the BBC reported. The Confucius Prize was established in 2010, the same year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. It was unclear when exactly Mugabe was awarded the prize.