Jack Straw-Robert Mugabe Handshake

Britain always has a soft spot for its former colonies. In 1994, Prime Minister John Major recommended Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the knighthood. During his visit that year, he was awarded the honorary knighthood. With international outrage growing, Mugabe was stripped of his knighthood only in 2008. (Mussoulini, Ceaucescu, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt were all so honored too).

More embarrassing incident occurred when UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw shook hands with Mugabe and said “nice to see you” when they met at a lunchtime reception hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki at the UN in New York in 2004. Just minutes before, in an address to the UN General Assembly, the Zimbabwean president delivered a virulent attack on Britain which had recently expelled his country from the Commonwealth.

Straw’s explanation was more shocking: “I hadn’t expected to see President Mugabe there. Because it was quite dark in that corner, I was sort of being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody as a matter of courtesy, and then it transpired it was President Mugabe. But the fact that there is serious disagreement between Zimbabwe and the UK does not mean we should be discourteous or rude.” (Straw had earlier refused to bar the Zimbabwe cricket team from playing in the International Cricket Council trophy in Britain.)