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Robert Mugabe

Robert Gabriel Mugabe (born February 21, 1924) has been the head of government in Zimbabwe, first as Prime Minister and later as first executive President, since 1980. He has been accused of being an autocratic ruler. Because of his controversial policies, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations and he himself is banned from entering the European Union.


Mugabe speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Anti-Colonial Struggle
3 Prime Minister, then Executive President
4 Land Reforms
5 Controversial 2002 Election Victory
6 Opposition to Mugabe
7 External Links:

Early life

Mugabe's father is believed to be either from Malawi or Zambia. Mugabe was raised at Kutama Mission, Zvimba District, north-west of Harare (then called Salisbury), in then Southern Rhodesia. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and was educated in Jesuit schools. He qualified as a teacher at age 17, but left to study at Fort Hare University in South Africa, graduating in 1951. He then studied at Drifontein in 1952, Salisbury (1953), Gwelo (1954), in Tanzania (1955 - 1957), and then Accra, Ghana (1958 - 1960) where he married a local teacher.

Anti-Colonial Struggle

Returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1960 as a committed Marxist, Mugabe joined Joshua Nkomo and the National Democratic Party (NDP), which later became the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). He left ZAPU in 1963 to form the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). After squabbling with ZANU's founder Ndabaningi Sithole, he became leader of a militant ZANU faction.

He was detained with other nationalist leaders in 1964 and remained in prison for ten years. On his release he resumed leadership of his faction of ZANU and left Rhodesia for Mozambique in 1974 and led the Chinese-financed military arm of ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), in the war against the Ian Smith government. In 1976 ZANU allied itself with ZAPU as the Popular Front (PF).

Prime Minister, then Executive President

After negotiations led to the 1979 Lancaster House Accord, the UDI Rhodesian regime was replaced by a British colonial government under Lord Soames, a British governor. Elections were held for a new national parliament which assumed the reins of government from Soames as the Republic of Zimbabwe. International observers expected Joshua Nkomo to become prime minister, however it was Mugabe who was elected to head the first government as prime minister on March 4, 1980 with ZANU winning 57 out of 100 seats in the new parliament.


Kofi Annan (left) with Mugabe (right)

He was initially part of a coalition government with Nkomo, but in 1982 ZAPU was accused of plotting a coup and Nkomo was dismissed from the government. A brutal crackdown against ZAPU supporters followed; Mugabe's notorious Fifth Brigade unit killed many members of the minority Ndebele tribe that supported Nkomo. This systematic murder of civilians has been described by some Zimbabweans supportive of Mugabe as Gukurahundi, which means "the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains". The collapse of the coalition with Nkomo allowed Mugabe to strengthen his hold on power. After his re-election in 1985, Mugabe signed a "unity agreement" with Nkomo to end the continuing ZANU-ZAPU rivalry and brought Nkomo into the government as a vice-president. In 1987 the position of Prime Minister was abolished, and Mugabe assumed the new office of executive President of Zimbabwe gaining additional powers in the process. He was re-elected in 1990 and 1996.

Mugabe improved health and education for the black population at the beginning of his regime. In 1991, due to economic mismanagement, Mugabe began a programme of free-market reforms, but the International Monetary Fund suspended aid because the reforms were "not on track".

At the same time he pursued a "moral campaign" against homosexuality, making what he deemed "unnatural sex acts" illegal with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. This included the arrest of his predecessor as President of Zimbabwe, Canaan Banana, who was convicted of gay sex offenses. Mugabe claims that these are actions taken to curb the growing AIDS crisis. However his opponents at home and abroad accuse Mugabe of homophobia and say that his policies have contributed greatly to the spread of the disease.

Mugabe has also been criticized for his intervention in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a time when the Zimbabwean economy was struggling. The war has raised accusations of corruption, with officials alleged to be plundering the Congo's mineral reserves.

Land Reforms


Mugabe, addressing the 114-nation member Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2003, is an advocate for Third World concerns.
When Mugabe became prime minister, approximately 70% of the country's arable land was owned by approximately 4,000 descendants of white settlers. However, he reassured white landowners that they had nothing to fear from black majority rule. At the time, Mugabe favored a "willing buyer, willing seller" plan for gradual redistribution of land.

The white farmer population had largely come to Southern Rhodesia in the century since the establishment of the British colony, which was named after British financier Cecil Rhodes, whose company, the British South Africa Company, violently seized the land from the indigenous Matabele and Mashona people in the 1890s. Many members of the white community had supported the Unilateral Declaration of Independence regime of Ian Smith, which had taken over the government in the mid-1960s and broke with Britain over proposals for eventual black majority rule. Though Mugabe as prime minister spoke of the need for some form of land reform, little was done in his early years in power. This changed in the 1990s.

Mugabe's major push to seize those lands in the 1990s has proved deeply controversial. To its defenders, it is seen as Zimbabweans are taking back what they consider had been seized from them unjustly. Critics argue however that the seizures have little to do with fair and adequate distribution of land, and is all about the consolidation of Mugabe's increasingly controversial rule through the distribution of land to supporters of his movement, with many of the "war veterans" claiming land not being war veterans at all. During the seizures, violence erupted, resulting in some deaths on both sides.

The deaths of some white landowners resulted in an outcry in the West, including the barring of Mugabe from visits to the European Union. Some black leaders claimed that Mugabe was simply replacing one white colonial elite with a new elite comprised of his own supporters.

Whatever the arguments over the reasons behind the redistribution, the productivity of the land has been greatly reduced, as large, intensively farmed tracts have been subdivided into uneconomic holdings that lack even basic farm machinery, a problem made more severe by the destruction by the "war veterans" of much of the farm machinery owned by whites, through mass burning of farm outbuildings. The scale of the drop in farm output has produced widespread claims by aid agencies of starvation and famine. However Mugabe's expulsion of the international media has prevented full analysis of the scale of the famine and the resultant deaths. What is not in dispute is that a country once so rich in agricultural produce that it was dubbed the "bread basket" of Southern Africa, is now struggling to feed its own population.

Many of the economic emigrants from Zimbabwe are now being enthusiastically sought by neighbouring states, notably Zambia and South Africa.


Many Africans view land reform as an essential component of decolonization. Land reform was an important step in achieving economic development in many Third World countries since the post-World War II period, especially in the East Asian Tigers and "Tiger Cubs" nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Since mainland China's economic reforms led by Deng Xiaoping land reforms have also played a key role in the development of the People's Republic of China. What remains controversial in Mugabe's Zimbabwe is the manner of the land reform, its haphazard nature and the widespread suspicion that it is being used to reward Mugabe supporters and attack his opponents, with others (including thousands of black Africans who worked the white owned farms and those experiencing famine) losing out.

Mugabe has made much of his return to devout Catholicism and worships at Harare's Catholic Cathedral. Following the death of his popular first wife, Sally, in 1992 he married his former secretary, Grace Marufu, in 1996, with whom he had long had a relationship prior to his first wife's death.

Controversial 2002 Election Victory

Mugabe faced Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in presidential elections in March 2002 and won a substantial and controversial victory with accusations of violence and an unprecedented turnout in Mugabe's rural stronghold of Mashonaland of around 90% (55% of the population voted overall), amid allegations that opponents in anti-Mugabe strongholds were prevented from voting. Growing discontent with the country's economy, with inflation and unemployment at record levels, are threats to his rule.

Opposition to Mugabe

Since Mugabe began to redistribute white-owned landholdings, he has faced harsh attacks, externally from mostly white former colonial powers and white former settler-colonies such as Australia, and internally from trade-unions and urban Zimbabwean, who overwhelmingly support the opposition MDC. In addition, some African figures have condemned Mugabe, such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who called Mugabe a "caricature of an African dictator.", Zambia's long-time leader Kenneth Kaunda, who asked Mugabe to "bury the hatchet and get on with economic development instead of fighting 'colonialist ghosts.'", while Botswana President Festus Mogae distanced himself from the SADC statement opposing the Commonwealth suspension. He has been condemned by Western non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, charging that he has committed human rights abuses against minority Ndebeles, the opposition MDC, white landowners, and homosexuals. He is now banned from entering the European Union.

Mugabe's supporters, however, point out that Zimbabwe's economy is tied to the land (and most Zimbabweans depend on the land for their survival), and thus economic development cannot boost the living standards of black Zimbabweans without tackling the extreme problems of land distribution.

On March 9, 2003 US President George W. Bush approved measures for economic sanctions to be leveled against Mugabe and numerous other high-ranking Zimbabwe politicians, freezing their assets and barring Americans from engaging in any transactions or dealings with them. Justifying the move, Bush's spokesman stated the President and Congress believe that "the situation in Zimbabwe endangers the southern African region and threatens to undermine efforts to foster good governance and respect for the rule of law throughout the continent." The bill was known as the "Zimbabwe Democracy Act" and was deemed "racist" by Mugabe.

And, on December 8, 2003, in protest against a further 18 months of suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations (thereby cutting foreign aide to Zimbabwe), Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth. According to reports, Robert Mugabe informed the leaders of Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa of his decision when they phoned him to discuss the situation. Zimbabwe's government said the President did not accept the Commonwealth's position, and was leaving the group.

Many African nations, led by South Africa, want Zimbabwe to be brought back into the fold to encourage dialogue between Mugabe and domestic foes, while embers of what many Africans charge is the "white Commonwealth" the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand led the hard-line stance on the suspension of Zimbabwe. The so-called 'white' Commonwealth won the first round of a fight with African countries by securing the re-election of the organization's anti-Mugabe secretary general.

Mugabe thus charged that the club of mostly former British colonies had been taken over by racists. Mugabe said:

"If the choice were made, one for us to lose our sovereignty and become a member of the Commonwealth or remain with our sovereignty and lose the membership of the Commonwealth, I would say let the Commonwealth go."

Furthermore, Mugabe condemned the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, saying:

"He is arrogant - he thinks by virtue of his being white, by virtue of his being the prime minister of Great Britain, he can dictate to us."

"The Commonwealth is a mere club, but it has become like an 'Animal Farm' where some members are more equal than others. How can (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair claim to regulate and direct events and still say all of us are equals?"

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