Georgetown to honor dictators’ wives on Martin Luther King Day
When Jack DeGioia, Adrian Fenty, and John Thompson go to the Kennedy Center today, it won’t be for the free Brian McKnight concert. Together, they’ll present the first ladies of Zambia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia with the John Thompson Legacy of a Dream award for their work against HIV/AIDS. On a day so focused on freedom, though, it’s worth noting that an award that has previously gone to Rosa Parks and Colin Powell is being awarded to women who owe their positions to violence and exploitation.
Maureen Mwanawasa is married to the president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa. According to the Freedom House 2006 report, Levy is a garden-variety tyrant whose 2001 election was plagued with voting irregularities. Last year, journalists in Zambia were detained and beaten by police. He’s a mere oppression dilettante, though, when compared to Jeannette Kagame’s husband Paul, dictator of Rwanda.
After ending the Rwandan genocide, Kagame threw his moral capital and international goodwill away by invading the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Second Congo War, which the International Rescue Committee estimated cost killed 3,300,000 million lives(PDF). It has to be presumed some of these deaths benefited Jeannette Kagame materially, as a UN report called her husband and his Ugandan ally Yoweri Museveni “the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources” in the Congo.
Azeb Mesfin, the first lady of Ethiopia, is married to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a one-time rebel whose administrationis responsible for numerous human rights abuses. She has used her position to obtain a seat in Parliament and gain preferential access for her company, the ominously-named Mega Corporation. Her husband’s security forces killed several students in 2005, and continue to repress other oppositionists, according to the Freedom House 2006 report on the country.
These are the women who, in the University’s press release, President DeGioia said “have shown the courage and determination to promote compassion and create social change in the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned.” Certainly, their work against HIV/AIDS in the “Treat Every Child As Your Own” Campaign is laudable. Outside of charity work, though, these women and their husbands have a different motto: “Treat the country as your own.”
Posted by Will Sommer