Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe was in Rome last week, making waves and raising eyebrows. First he declared that his government's notorious land-grab policies are a "visionary" solution to hunger. Then there was his mere presence inside European Union borders. Strictly speaking, he shouldn't have even been there. (He's been officially barred entry due to his intolerant treatment of political opponents.) But he managed to skirt the ban through a loophole that allows any leader--blacklisted or not--to attend a U.N. conference. In this particular case, it was the U.N. World Food Summit.
All this was nothing next to his extravagance. While his people back home continued to suffer, Mugabe, his wife, Grace, and his entourage took full advantage of Rome. Let's begin with their accommodation: rooms at the five-star Excelsior hotel at $650 a night (the average income in Zimbabwe is only $480--a year). While the summit addressed the "general economic crisis" in Zimbabwe and warned of potentially devastating food shortages in the country (5.2 million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year), Mugabe joined other leaders at mealtimes to sip the finest Italian wines and enjoy lobster and olive-stuffed goose.
Oh, and did we mention the shopping sprees? Observers at the Excelsior couldn't help but notice the Mercedes limousines that kept shuttling Mrs. Mugabe and the delegation's spouses back and forth from the hotel to Rome's chicest fashion district each day. Whether Mugabe's government is "visionary" or not remains to be seen. But it's clear that the Mugabe camp knows how to take full advantage of a good deal when it sees one.