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The Zimbabwean First Lady, Grace Mugabe, was not in a good mood. President Robert Mugabe, who has been in office since December 1987, picked up the wrong speech at the official opening of Parliament in September. The speech was exactly the same as one given in August, intended to be a 'state of the nation' talk and implying that foreign investment (read: China) would come to the rescue of the stuttering economy.

The gaffe was all the more sensitive because of the threat of disruption to proceedings by his opponents, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The live broadcast of the speech was suspended because of a fear of audible protests within parliament itself. Only those who were there heard the presidential mistake, but it was the same audience who heard it back in August and MDC parliamentarians did indeed heckle the president.

The First Lady ordered an investigation and while one pities those who had the finger of blame pointed at them, the 'wrong' speech quickly became connected to a wider story connected to the long-standing president.

Once it became clear that the president read the 'wrong' speech, his age became an issue. President Mugabe is 91-yearsold, as his opponents would be swift remind you. For those who wish the president to resign or simply leave office, the gaffe was a helpful reminder that he might not actually be capable of being presidential. Given the turbulent political history of the country, such an error will be seized upon to aid and abet desires to consolidate collective positions.

The presidential or prime ministerial gaffe is not unique to Mugabe of course. Gaffes are made by politicians and public figures around the world. It might be a wrong speech, an ill-judged sentence, but can also be rooted in objects. When Prime Minister David Cameron went to China in November 2010, he had a choice to make. Would he and his entourage wear poppies? Either he could make a gaffe abroad and offend his hosts or make one at home Apparently, his Chinese hosts requested that the British not wear poppies because it would serve as a reminder of the role of European powers--including Britain--in China at the height of the opium trade.

Nonetheless, Cameron wore his poppy and duly attracted criticism, and as the poppies were prominently displayed on lapels for several days of the tour, the 'gaffe' caused upset in multiple places, leading to some careful editing of official photographs so that senior Chinese officials and leaders were not shown shaking hands with senior poppy-wearing British counterparts.

The wrong words, the wrong objects and even the wrong gestures can serve as potential gaffes. At the mass solidarity march in Paris in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was accused of making a gaffe when he forced his way to the front of the parade of world leaders, and then followed up with a wave to the crowd after hearing at least one member of the public shout a pro-Israeli message. His decision to wave was deemed to be a gaffe because it failed to judge what was appropriate behaviour for such a sombre setting. He had already caused embarrassment for the French authorities by urging French Jews to leave for Israel if they felt unsafe in modern France.

Sometimes, of course, the gaffe is not accidental. Prime Minister Netanyahu may have wanted to be photographed holding his hand up in solidarity with that member of the public who shouted a pro-Israeli sentiment. Prime Minister Cameron probably did not want to risk the ire of the Daily Mail by not wearing his poppy. Whatever their motivations, a gaffe's effects can radiate far beyond its place of origin.

Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and author of Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction
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Title Annotation:GEOPOLITICAL HOTSPOT; President Robert Mugabe's delivery of wrong speech
Comment:Gaffes.(GEOPOLITICAL HOTSPOT)(President Robert Mugabe's delivery of wrong speech)
Author:Dodds, Klaus
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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