Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's ex-leader, dies at age 95

Mugabe, the first leader of independent Zimbabwe, ruled over the country with an iron fist for almost 40 years, from 1980 - 2017.

Sara Rubenstein,

Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe
REUTERS

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe who was forced out of almost 40 years in power in a military coup in 2017, died at the age of 95 on Friday.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote on Twitter: "It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe's founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe.

"Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace."

Mugabe has suffered from poor health in recent months and was hospitalized in Singapore since April.

Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in Zimbabwe, which was then Rhodesia. In 1964, after criticizing the conservative white minority government, he was imprisoned, remaining in jail for over a decade. He was elected as president of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) in 1973 while still in prison amidst the ongoing guerrilla war between the white government and black nationalists.

When Mugabe was released from prison in 1974, he traveled to England to attend the University of London, earning degrees in education, economics and law. From London, he headed an armed resistance to Rhodesia's reigning government, which ended in 1979, ending the white minority rule. He was elected the first prime minister of independent Zimbabwe in 1980.

Mugabe proved to be an autocrat in his rule, brutally controlling the newly independent country with an iron fist. When he first became leader, Zimbabwe, a country with such abundant natural resources that it was termed the breadbasket of Africa, had a strong economy which Mugabe continued to foster. He also modernized the country and made sweeping educational reforms.

However, Mugabe refused to tolerate even the slightest opposition to his rule, widely violating human rights and carrying out massacres of opposing groups. His Fifth Brigade is said to have massacred as much as 20,000 people, mostly opponents of his regime.

Mugabe's iron fist gradually had an effect on Zimbabwe's economy. In 1992, he instituted a law that allowed the government to buy land from white landowners by force, which was then redistributed to black Zimbabweans. Tens of thousands left the country, leading to an economic crisis.

In 2000, when voters voted against a new constitution allowing the government to seize land from white landowners without compensation, Mugabe reacted by continuing to forcibly seize land from white farmers and landowners, redistributing it to political cronies with no agricultural experience rather than poor blacks.

The result was the near-collapse of commercial agriculture, gradually replaced by subsistence farming. Commercial agriculture, dwindled from over 40% of Zimbabwe's export economy to almost nothing, causing widespread famine and forcing World Food programs and other foreign aid programs to save millions of Zimbabweans from dying of hunger.

In 2002, the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Mugabe and senior Zanu-PF party officials. In later years, Mugabe would blame international sanctions for Zimbabwe's economic issues.

As Mugabe began to face increased opposition to his rule, he reacted by tightening the reins to opposition from political rivals through violence and rigged elections. and continued to seize land from white farmers.

Seemingly oblivious to the suffering of his people, he celebrated his birthday each year with parties costing hundreds of thousands of dollars while his people starved, reportedly spending $800,000 on his birthday party the year before he was deposed.

Mugabe didn't seem concerned by the increasing calls for his removal in the period leading to the coup. "Only God who appointed me will remove me," he said.

On November 15, 2017, Mugabe was deposed in a coup d'état by his own party members, triggered by his dismissal of then vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa to appoint his wife Grace in his place.

He was placed under house arrest by the national army following over a year of widespread protests against his government and the deteriorating economy. On 19 November 2017, ZANU-PF appointed Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Mugabe's place.




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