Insulting dictators ought to be safe, so long as you do not operate in the same country. Nando’s, a South African restaurant chain, forgot that with an ad showing a Robert Mugabe lookalike glumly alone at dinner (after many of his fellow despots had been deposed [and perhaps more importantly, dead]). He reminisces about happy days shooting water pistols with Muammar Qaddafi, playing in the sand with Saddam Hussein and riding a tank, “Titanic”-style, with Idi Amin. The ad was broadcast in South Africa, where Nando’s middle-class target audience found it hilarious. But Nando’s also has restaurants in Zimbabwe. Threats ensued. Fearing violence against its staff there, the ad was pulled.To be more exact, political youth groups linked to Mugabe threatened to harm Nando's employees in Zimbabwean outlets. The ad was also broadcast not only in South Africa but throughout the continent via satellite TV. (You also can't insult the head of state in Zimbabwean law.) Still, the corporate social responsibility angle is quite obtuse given that the aggrieved party is not exactly an exemplar of good governance. With his penchant for hyperinflation in the economic realm and even more unpleasant things in the security one, Mugabe is not a sympathetic figure to say the least. That said, he has gradually become worse in true Anakin Skywalker - Darth Vader fashion.
My, er...enjoyment of this Nando's commercial compared to the more straightforward if even more politically incorrect dumb blonde ad is curtailed though despite its IR angle. There is this thing called the willing suspension of disbelief that is said to enable enjoyment of fiction. However, when the events being depicted vary too far from established facts, the cognitive dissonance becomes too severe to overcome.
And so it is with this ad to an extent. While I appreciate that singing karaoke is an Asian stereotype, it is chronologically impossible for Mugabe to have joined Chairman Mao in this activity as a fellow dictator. For, Comrade Bob only assumed power in 1980 when Mao died in 1976. The same qualifier holds for Idi Amin who was ousted in 1979. Besides, isn't Mao responsible for the Cultural Revolution which aimed to expunge harmful foreign influences alike karaoke? Even more surreal is having Comrade Bob play on a swing set with South African apartheid-era Prime Minister P.W. Botha [?!] Why would an erstwhile leader of the pan-African independence movement away from white rule be frolicking with one of its most odious proponents? I suppose it's what got the Zimbabwean pro-Mugabe crowd most in a frenzy about the ad more than anything else.
It's too bad Nando's isn't going to include Kim Il-Jong in a follow-up advert with all the controversy. Now that's a real contemporary of Comrade Bob's who's gone on to...I don't quite know where atheists of his sort go. Besides, why feature Chairman Mao instead of true contemporaries alike Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos, Chile's Augusto Pinochet or Panama's General Manuel Noriega--certainly recognizable figures to any international audience?
I guess the song gets it right, though:
Oh my friend we're older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same