ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe's tirade against Jamaican men that has soured relations between Kingston and Harare, might have been been stirred by comments made in July this year by P J Patterson.
Patterson, the Jamaican prime minister who bestowed the honorary Order of Jamaica (OJ) on Mugabe in 1996, carefully crafted his criticisms of the former liberation fighter, in response to questions by editors and reporters during an appearance at the popular Observer Monday Exchange with newsmakers on July 30.
At the Exchange, Patterson also recalled his 1980 trip to Zimbabwe with reggae megastar, Robert Nesta 'Bob' Marley who sang his seminal work, Zimbabwe at the African country's Independence celebrations.
Patterson was asked by Observer writers to give his opinion on Mugabe, once a hero of the liberation movement against white supremacist Ian Smith's Rhodesia, but who had grown into a despot since being elected president in Zimbabwe's first free elections in 1979.
"We feel, certainly the rest of the world that has supported Zimbabwe all along in the struggle, we would wish that even at this late hour we would see some sort of shift back towards the fundamental principles of freedom, particularly for the press, and respect for the judicial process," Patterson said.
Last week, news reports out of Zimbabwe quoted Mugabe as saying Jamaican men were perpetual drunkards and ganja smokers, prompting dismay in Kingston and angry comments by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Foreign Minister A J Nicholson and Opposition spokesmen.
Asked yesterday by the Sunday Observer if he thought Mugabe's criticisms could have been a retort against his own comments, Patterson declined to speak on the issue, saying only that: "The prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs of Jamaica have responded. I don't have to respond."
In his July 30 comment, Patterson said he was hoping that Zimbabwe would revert to the principles that govern membership of the British Commonwealth.
"We have been through a very, very long period of supporting the emergence of Zimbabwe as an independent country, of overcoming all the legacies of what was a very bitter struggle for independence, of dealing with the inheritance of colonialism, particularly as it affected the allocation of land...
"I can say to you that Jamaica was very, very influential in securing the final breakthrough at Lancaster House (in England) which resulted in the Independence of Zimbabwe, and one of the important things was an acceptance that they would not change the Constitution for a specific period of time to deal with things like land rights because in the interim, the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States would, between them, make capital available for the purchase of land or for payment to the white farmers for land which have been denied the (Black) people of Zimbabwe.
"There was a reneging on that commitment and thereafter things took a turn for the worse. Changes had to be made to the constitutional arrangements."
Patterson also spoke about the allegations that Mugabe had rigged the 2002 elections, causing Zimbabwe's 12-month suspension from the Commonwealth. Mugabe then pulled his country out of the regional grouping, after refusing to accept its decision to maintain an indefinite suspension.
The former Jamaican prime minister chaired that meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in December 2003.
"We actually were doing everything to afford Zimbabwe some opportunity of getting back in line with the principles that govern membership of the Commonwealth. We were very disappointed, quite frankly, that President Mugabe chose not to respond to our overtures," he said.
Mugabe's attack came as a shocker, given Jamaica's healthy relations with Zimbabwe. The Lancaster House Independence negotiations referred to by Patterson was chaired by late Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley.
It also appeared as a slap in the face for Patterson who invited Mugabe to Jamaica in 1996 and set him up with the country's fourth highest honour.
Jamaica is now awaiting a clarification or apology from President Mugabe for broad-brush criticism of Jamaican men.