Robert Gabriel Mugabe
Zimbabwe

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 World Bank.

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 February 2009.

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.



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Vol 55 N0 7

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Vol 55 N0 7

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Recent summits have been undermined by bargaining over whether Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gets an invitation...

Vol 55 N0 6

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Vol 55 N0 5

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Vol 55 N0 3

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Gems may unpick European sanctions

The pressure from Belgium to accommodate Zimbabwean business – especially its gems – may yet clash with the British government’s historic enmity with President Robert Mugabe and the governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in the context of the European Union...

Vol 55 N0 1

ZIMBABWE

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Vol 55 N0 1

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Ruling party conference ignores crisis

The Mashonaland West provincial capital, Chinoyi, got all dressed up for the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front conference on 13-14 December but the deliberations produced no breakthroughs – either on the worsening economic problems or the stalemate over the successor to President Robert Mugabe...

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