Robert Gabriel Mugabe
President (since 1987)
Date of Birth: 21/02/1924
Place of Birth: Zvimba
Ethnicity: Shona - Zezuru
Son of Gabriel Mugabe and Bona Shonhiwa
Career: National Democratic Party (NDP), 1960; Acting Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) formed after ban of NDP 1961-62; Founding Member and Secretary General of the Zimbabwe African
National Union (ZANU) following split from ZAPU, 1963-75; detained 1964-74; leader of external wing of ZANU, 1975; ZANU President, 1977 to
date; Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, 1980-87; President of Zimbabwe, 1987 to date; Chairman, Non-Aligned Movement, 1986; Chairman, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 1991; Chairman, Frontline States, 1992; Chairman, G15 group of countries, 1995; Chairman, World Solar Summit, 1995; Chairman, Southern African Development Community's Organisation on Defence, Politics and Security, 1996-2001; Chairman, Organisation of African Unity (now African Union), 1997; Chairman, Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA), 2009.
Commentary: Robert Mugabe is the only ruler Zimbabweans have
known since Independence in 1980. His reign saw the country prosper in
the first decade, slip in the second and collapse in the third. Calls
for him to step down were made as early as 1992, soon after the
introduction of the International Monetary Fund-sponsored Economic
Structural Adjustment Programme, which saw subsidies lifted and
thousands of workers laid off amid one of the worst droughts in
Zimbabwe’s history, but Mugabe has miraculously survived, surprising
even his own lieutenants.
President Mugabe has ruled the country with an iron fist, using
violence as part of his election campaign, from the first
post-Independence elections in 1985 when opposition Zimbabwe African
People’s Union (ZAPU) supporters were beaten up and made to vote for
his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. Thousands of
innocent civilians were killed in Matebeleland and Midlands in the
five-year civil strife from 1982-87, which is now commonly known as Gukurahundi, meaning to wipe the country of 'dissidents'.
There was more widespread and systematic violence at the 2000
parliamentary elections, and again at the 2002 presidential elections
after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, led by
former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai.
Surprisingly the crucial 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections
were very peaceful until Mugabe lost, with 43 percent of the vote
against Tsvangirai’s 48 percent; ZANU-PF also lost its parliamentary
majority (99 seats to 110 for the opposition). The run-up to the second
round of elections was a bloody campaign, which left close to 200
people dead, forcing Tsvangirai to pull out of the race.
Initially regarded as a revolutionary who wanted to keep the party
leadership youthful (and as a man who would not tolerate corruption
when ZANU-PF introduced a leadership code in 1984), Mugabe slowly
turned into a dictator. Die-hard opponents like Edgar Tekere, his former Secretary General, and later Eddison Zvobgo
were got rid of. Mugabe has retained power by rewarding loyalists and
making sure that there is no logical successor at any one time.
There are now two major factions within ZANU-PF, one led by former army commander, Solomon Mujuru, and the other by former intelligence chief Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa seems to have the upper hand, but Tsvangirai's popularity
raises doubts about his chances of leading the nation. Mujuru, once
considered a king-maker, lost favour when he openly opposed Mugabe at
the 2006 ZANU-PF annual conference at Goromonzi and called for a
special congress to elect a new leadership.
A highly educated man with seven degrees under his belt, Mugabe saw
Zimbabwe slip from being the Jewel of Africa to a basket case with the
highest inflation in the world. Inflation was officially at 231 million
percent in July 2008. The United States academic Steve Hanke put it at 89.7 sextillion percent (21 zeroes) in November 2008.
Mugabe's downfall is attributed to three major blunders: the granting
of packages to war veterans in 1997 when this was not budgeted for;
military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
and the fast-tracking of land reform in 2000, when he grabbed land from
almost all white commercial farmers, after which the European Union and
the United States imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. Though these
have been dubbed 'smart' sanctions targeted at individuals, their
effect was considerable as Zimbabwe could not receive balance of
payments support from international organisations like the IMF and the
Backed by hardliners led by Mnangagwa and the military and service
chiefs, Mugabe refused to hand over power to Tsvangirai following his
March 2008 defeat. He was forced to sign a power-sharing agreement on
15 September after the country took an unprecedented downhill slide.
Mugabe was to remain President but with reduced powers, while
Tsvangirai became Prime Minister. Arthur Mutambara,
the leader of the smaller MDC faction, became Deputy Prime Minister.
Another four months went by before Tsvangirai was sworn in on 11
Mugabe is now widely expected to retire at ZANU-PF's National Congress
in December. This should pave the way for his successor, who, under the
Global Political Agreement, will automatically become the country’s
president. Whispers say he may seek re-election because of infighting
among his lieutenants, but this is very unlikely. Word is that Mugabe
has already vacated State House, his official residence, and has been
staying at his Borrowdale mansion for the past year.