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Did Mugabe propose to marry Barack Obama?

Following the death of Robert Mugabe, who died on September 6 at age 95, various media have carried articles on some of his most famous quotes.

Among the quotes is a claim that he once proposed to marry Barack Obama, purportedly in response to a decision by the US Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriages in America.

The quote says:

“I’ve just concluded — since President Obama endorses same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people, and enjoys an attractive countenance — thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, DC, get down on my knee, and ask his hand.”

The quote has been widely attributed to Mugabe by multiple media outlets, including Zimbabwe’s NewsDay and Daily News, and also carried by Al Jazeera, plus news agencies Associated
Press and AFP.

The fake quote first appeared in 2015, in a report titled, Zimbabwe president to Obama — Marry me, and published by AWD news. It was subsequently carried by other news sources, among
them the BBC (Mugabe wants to marry Obama), Newsweek and Daily Mail UK. In December 2015, BBC Africa went on to name the “I want to marry Obama” quote as one of its “top 2015
quotes”.

Mugabe, however, never made such a remark.

AWD claimed Mugabe made the remarks “in his weekly radio address”. At no time were there weekly radio addresses under Mugabe.

AWD, the website that carried the original article, is listed among fake news sites by fact-checking organisations. Fact-checker website Snopes describes AWD as a site that “doesn’t
have more than a nodding acquaintance with facts, instead playing on nationalistic fantasy and conspiracy theory to create alarming (and thus clickable and shareable) stories”.

How many other fake Mugabe quotes are out there?

On Facebook, there are at least seven pages dedicated to false, satirical Mugabe quotes, while Twitter has at least 18 accounts posting similar content.

While such quotes are, apparently, made for humour, news organisations have frequently fallen for them and used them as fact.

In 2015, a Kenyan fake news website, spectator.co.ke, reported that Mugabe called Kenyans “thieves”. The claim was then repeated by the New York Times in an article on corruption in
Kenya.

Jeffrey Gettleman, who wrote the Times story and is the New York Times East bureau chief, told Kenya’s iMediaEthics at the time: “I had contacted a Zimbabwean journalist in Harare
before we published the story” so that the journalist could fact-check Spectator’s claims. The journalist, who Gettleman did not want to name, told Gettleman that the Spectator story “appeared” accurate.

The quote was false and the New York Times had to issue a correction.

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