The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has sparked outrage 8,000 miles away by insulting the people of the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
"In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke cannabis, the men are always high and universities are full of women," he reportedly said during a speech in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare, according to the Zimbabwean Daily News.
"The [Jamaican] men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some of them twist their hair. Let us not go there."
He also suggested that Jamaican women are taking over the country because the men are "drunkards and perennially hooked on marijuana.”
Mugabe, who is 88 years old, reportedly refrains from smoking and drinking. It in unclear why Mugabe chose to level verbal attacks on Jamaica.
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In response to Mugabe’s incendiary comments, Jamaica’s foreign minister, A.J. Nicholson, told the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper: "Jamaican men and women from all walks of life have made valuable contributions to national development and have made their mark on the world stage, be it in the field of politics, diplomacy, medicine, science and technology, or sports and culture, among many others.”
Nicholson further stated: “We take immense pride in the acknowledged contribution that Jamaica has made to the liberation of southern Africa and are gratified that nations such as South Africa and Zimbabwe enjoy the right to choose their own destiny.”
Christopher Tufton and other Jamaican opposition lawmakers suggested that Mugabe should return the “Order of Jamaica” honor he received during a visit to the island nation in 1996.
"I think that he should be called on to provide an explanation as to what he meant. It's inappropriate and, frankly speaking, rude. He should apologize to the Jamaican people," Tufton told the Gleaner.
“It certainly is in poor taste and does not generate confidence in the relationship. It is inappropriate, and it threatens to undermine the relationship that Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe have had with Jamaica and the people of Jamaica over many years.”
However, not all Jamaicans were displeased by Mugabe’s unpleasant remarks.
In a letter to the Gleaner, Nardia Grant declared: “Mugabe's comments should do more than just spark debate. It should provide a serious opportunity for some introspection by every Jamaican … In this our 50th year of Independence, many of our young people, particularly our men, are not as forward-thinking as we would like them to be. We have quite a few who … glorify the use of marijuana and alcohol to prove that they are real men.”
Grant added: “We cannot hit back and say [Mugabe’s] claims are false because we see it every day. It [behooves] us, both at the individual and policy levels, to sort out our affairs … So many of our young men are wasting their lives away trying to find their way out of their situations by less-than-honorable means. If we don't, many more Mugabe-like statements will constantly reappear, tarnishing our already tattered image that our athletes and many other upstanding Jamaicans have helped us to resurrect over the past few years.”
Another Gleaner letter writer, Vincent Peterkin, a Northern Caribbean University Administrator, wrote: "Certainly, President Robert Mugabe's observation that our 'universities are full of women' while our men 'want to sing and do not go to colleges' is a truism, which none can deny … Can we not use this as an eye-opener and another wake-up call to help our men? There is urgent need for a concerted groundswell effort by all Jamaicans to salvage the dignity and respect of some of our downtrodden and marginalized men.”
Zimbabwe and Jamaica have had generally friendly relations since Mugabe became president in 1980. Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae superstar, even attended Mugabe’s inauguration and perform a song called "Zimbabwe" in honor of the president.
Current Jamaican musician Sizzla, who performed at Mugabe’s birthday celebration in 2010, said: "I see [Mugabe] as one of my fathers from Africa. He's part of my nation, the black nation. In all that he's done -- whether it's good or bad -- I hope and pray that it's for the betterment of the people.”