Human rights groups and opposition politicians accuse Mugabe of overseeing the crippling of his country’s economy and brutal crackdowns, but the prize organisers dismissed their concerns

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly Photo: Reuters

China has awarded its home-grown equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize to Robert Mugabe, the man accused of driving Zimbabwe into poverty during his rule of more than three decades.

The Confucius Peace Prize, set up in 2010 after the Nobel original was awarded to a Chinese dissident infuriating the ruling Communist Party, was a reward for Mr Mugabe’s “inspired national leadership and service to pan-Africanism”.

“He has overcome difficulties of all kinds and has strongly committed himself to constructing his nation’s political and economic order, while strongly supporting pan-Africanism and African independence,” the citation read.

Zimbabwe has become closely tied to Chinese aid and investment during the latter stages of Mr Mugabe’s rule, as his relations with the West foundered.

President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe addresses the UNGAPresident of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe addresses the UNGA  Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

China has always regarded itself as a “friend” of African nations, particularly those which are notionally socialist, and even more as it has begun to exploit their natural resources to feed its own growing economy.

However, there were indications under the rule of the last Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, that even the Chinese had tired of Mr Mugabe’s eccentric rule.

In an outspoken briefing in 2007, at a time the Zimbabwean currency was collapsing, a Chinese envoy confirmed that Beijing was limiting new investment and that it viewed the situation in the country as a “problem” – unusually harsh words from Beijing for an ally

Mr Mugabe, 91, who has ruled for 35 years, beat off a challenge from the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled his country since it became independent of the old Soviet Union in 1991, Park Geun-Hye, the president of South Korea, and Bill Gates.

The award is not made by the Chinese government, but by a think-tank called the “China International Peace Studies Centre”.

Previous winners include Fidel Castro, the retired Cuban leader, and Vladimir Putin, president of Russia. The Zimbabwean opposition People’s Democratic Party said it was “utterly disgusted” by the award

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