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Robert Mugabe Thinks Overstepping Term Limits Is Funny When Other People Do It

The strongman is also a funnyman. At least according to his fellow African leaders.

Posted on June 17, 2015, at 12:28 p.m. ET

This week, African leaders met in South Africa for the 25th African Union Summit. They did previously scheduled things, like writing up a list of development goals called "Agenda 2063," a rather future-forward way of "learning the lessons of the past."

Shiraaz Mohamed / AP

And like listening to Angelina Jolie telling them how important women's rights are.

Gianluigi Guercia / AFP / Getty Images

But some unexpected things happened, like when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir almost actually got arrested for genocide.

Shiraaz Mohamed / AP

Al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his hand in the conflict in Darfur, in western Sudan.

The African Union (AU) had promised not to arrest any of the presidents who attended, but a South African court said the South African government was legally required to arrest him. By the time the court came to that decision, he'd already flown back home, even though there'd been a court order blocking his departure.

Al-Bashir would have been the first sitting president arrested for ICC charges.

And like when Robert Mugabe, who has run Zimbabwe for 35 years and currently heads the AU, started telling jokes about leaders who cling to power. Addressing his fellow presidents, Mugabe briefly turned from statesman into stand-up comic.

View this video on YouTube / Via SABC

He knows — personally, you might say, although he didn't — how hard it is for leaders to leave. "'The first term I served, oh no, it was not a real term.' But you were there for five years!"


The audience roared with laughter, or what counts as roaring when a room full of politicians — all without irony, many corrupt, and some literal war criminals — meet up for statecraft.


Mugabe never mentioned him by name, but the jokes were thought to be about Pierre Nkurunziza, the president of Burundi, who is literally fighting for the chance to run for a third term in an election scheduled for July 15.

Jerome Delay / AP

Nkurunziza's first term began in 2005, when he was elected president by Parliament. He was re-elected in Burundi's first direct presidential election in 2010. Burundi's constitution limits a president to two terms, but Nkurunziza says this means two directly elected terms. Opponents, who have been protesting in the streets for more than a month, disagree. Around two dozen people have been killed in these protests.

The real joke, though, is in the delivery. Mugabe is the very cliché of the African strongman, the president who refuses to leave power no matter how bad things get for his people.

Shiraaz Mohamed / AP

He was a revolutionary leader in the fight against apartheid in southern Africa, but in his later years he has presided over incredible inflation and serious corruption. His re-election bids have been accompanied by violence, especially in 2008, when his ruling party, widely thought to have actually lost the election, was accused of terrorizing opposition members and raping women to intimidate them into voting for him. In 2013, he was re-elected to his seventh term.



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.