JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Congratulations to Robert Mugabe, winner of the Confucius Peace Prize.
It's an honor not everyone would want to accept. But given the origin of the prize, and some of its previous winners, it couldn't have gone to a better candidate
China created the award in 2010 as a reaction to jailed dissident writer Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel peace prize. Liu, recognized for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China," remains in prison.
This year's Nobel peace laureates are a grass-roots pro-democracy group in Tunisia. China's rejoinder was to award its Confucius prize to the 91-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 35 years.
So what did it take for Zimbabwe's perpetual president to win the Confucius prize, pipping Bill Gates and Ban Ki-moon to the post?
The prize committee cited his hard work "to bring political and economic order to the country and to improve the welfare of the Zimbabwean people by overcoming hardship."
“If Zimbabwe did not have Mugabe as its president, the country would be facing great difficulty – even public security might be in danger,” Qiao Damo, the prize committee's chairman, is quoted as saying.
Zimbabwe hasn't gone the way of Libya or Syria. But during Mugabe's long rule, the country has shrunk into economic shambles with rampant rights abuses.
Mugabe began as a liberation fighter, jailed by the white supremacist Rhodesian government. He became the first black prime minister of the renamed Zimbabwe in 1980 and was widely lauded as a hero.
He has since overseen campaigns of violence including torture against his political opponents.
Not long after coming to power, Mugabe's government led a campaign to crush opposition groups in the Matabeleland area that saw the massacre of thousands of people.
Starting in 2000, he led the brutal seizures of white-owned commercial farms. Critics blame current food shortages on his land reform program.
A bout of hyperinflation saw prices rising at a rate of 500 billion percent in 2008. The government abandoned its own currency for US dollars. It is now running out of money to pay civil servants, but unlike in the past, can't simply print more.
Zimbabweans are poorer today than 25 years ago. Unemployment is extremely high (the exact figure is unclear) and many Zimbabweans have left to seek work in South Africa. Zimbabwe is currently seeing its worst drought in a decade.
Mugabe wins a prize of 500,000 yuan (around $80,000) and a gold trophy of Confucius. He joins previous winner Vladimir Putin.