More than 200,000 people have signed a petition asking the White House to cooperate with efforts to “extradite Walter Palmer” — the Minneapolis-area dentist who killed Cecil the lion — “promptly at the Zimbabwe government’s request.” According to reports, Palmer and/or his hunting guides lured the beloved lion out of a game reserve. Palmer then shot Cecil with a crossbow; the wounded lion lived for another 40 hours before he was dispatched with a bullet.
I have to assume that those who want Palmer extradited don’t know much about Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe or his sorry human rights record.
Mugabe, 91, has run Zimbabwe into the ground since he was first elected in 1980. Early on, he decided to bring the country under one-party rule. His Fifth Brigade wiped out political opposition in two provinces. By 1985, Mugabe’s Gukurahundi campaign had left some 20,000 civilians dead.
Since those bloody days, Mugabe has used intimidation and brute force to hold on to power. In 2008, a rival who won more votes in the first round of the presidential election than Mugabe backed out of the runoff after security forces killed more than 200 of his supporters.
Last year, Mugabe sacked his vice president and other Cabinet members, leading many to suspect he wants his wife, Grace, to succeed him. Dirty dynasty.
In the 2000s, Mugabe allowed vigilante gangs to displace white farmers and ranchers. There were no careful land reforms, just severe food shortages as livestock owners slaughtered their remaining animals, and crony beneficiaries of Harare’s land distribution program didn’t know how to farm. The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch described the mayhem: “Comrade Mugabe is clinging to power, and taking his country down with him.”
During last month’s speech at the African Union, President Barack Obama declared, “Nobody should be president for life.” Who doubted that Mugabe topped Obama’s list? The disdain is mutual. After the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex marriage, Mugabe joked he would go to Washington, get down on one knee, and ask Obama for his hand in marriage.
In March, the Washington Post reported, a supporter killed a baby elephant for Mugabe’s $1 million birthday bash, where the 20,000 guests dined on two elephants and other wildlife. The host bagged and mounted a lion and a crocodile as birthday trophies. Mugabe used the occasion to rail against “white” safaris.
The White House cannot cooperate with Zimbabwe on Palmer’s extradition. It would be a human rights outrage to hand over the dentist to Zimbabwe’s jaded courts. And it would be a farce; Zimbabwe, after all, charges hunters $50,000 to bag a lion.
Palmer failed to do so cleanly. For that, he bears the blame. The dentist claimed in a statement: “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.” (Maybe that’s true and the guides are at fault. Maybe not. Palmer did plead guilty in 2008 for making a false statement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about where he had killed a black bear.)
The court of public opinion will take care of Palmer. Sadly, there is little such outrage for Robert Mugabe, who suspended lion, elephant, and leopard hunting temporarily. With the death of one lion, inexplicably, he has won a moment of respectability.
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