Robert Gabriel Mugabe (born 21 February 1924) is the current President of Zimbabwe, serving since 22 December 1987. As one of the leaders of the rebel groups against white minority rule, he was elected as Prime Minister, head of government, in 1980, and served in that office until 1987, when he became the country’s first executive head of state. He has led the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) since 1975.
Mugabe rose to prominence in the 1960s as the leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) during the conflict against the conservative white-minority government of Rhodesia. Mugabe was a political prisoner in Rhodesia for more than 10 years between 1964 and 1974. Upon release Mugabe, along with Edgar Tekere, immediately left Rhodesia with the assistance of Rekayi Tangwena in 1975 to launch the fight during the Rhodesian Bush War from bases in Mozambique. At the end of the war in 1979, Mugabe emerged as a hero in the minds of many Africans. He won the general elections of 1980 after calling for reconciliation between the former belligerents, including white Zimbabweans and rival political parties, and thereby became Prime Minister on Zimbabwe’s independence in April 1980.
Soon after independence Mugabe set about creating a ZANU–PF-run one-party state, establishing a North Korean-trained security force, the Fifth Brigade, in August 1981 to deal with internal dissidents. Mugabe attacked former allies ZAPU in which the Fifth Brigade crushed an armed rebellion by fighters loyal to his rival Joshua Nkomo, leader of the minority Ndebele tribe, in the province of Matabeleland. Between 1982 and 1985 at least 20,000 people died in ethnic cleansing and were buried in mass graves. Mugabe consolidated his power in December 1987, when he was declared executive president by parliament, combining the roles of head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, with powers to dissolve parliament and declare martial law.
In 2008 Mugabe suffered a narrow defeat in the first round of a presidential election but he subsequently won the run-off election in a landslide after his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew; Mugabe then entered a power-sharing deal with Tsvangirai as well as Arthur Mutambara of the MDC-T and MDC-M opposition party. In 2013, the Election Commission said Mugabe won his seventh term as President, defeating Tsvangirai with 61 percent of the vote in a disputed election in which there were numerous accounts of electoral fraud. Mugabe was elected as the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) on 30 January 2015. He had previously led the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity in 1997–98.
President of Zimbabwe: 1987–2008
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, and in 2002 amid claims of widespread vote-rigging and intimidation. Mugabe’s term of office expired at the end of March 2008, but he was re-elected later in 2008 in another election marred by allegations of election fraud and intimidation.
Mugabe has been the Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe since Parliament passed the University of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill in November 1990.
During the 1980s Mugabe’s policies were largely socialist in orientation. In 1980 and 1981 the Zimbabwean economy showed strong growth of the GDP with 10.6% and 12.5%. From 1982–89 economic growth averaged just 2.7% (1980–89 average 4.47%). The white minority government maintained (with economic sanctions) from 1966–72 a 6.7% average growth rate and overall from 1966 till 1979 a 3.8% average growth rate.
Unsuccessful market reform attempts were started in the 1990s and the economy stagnated in this time. Since 2000, GDP has declined by roughly 40% in part due to land reform and hyperinflation.
In November 2010, the IMF described the Zimbabwean economy as “completing its second year of buoyant economic growth”.
According to a 1995 World Bank report, after independence, “Zimbabwe gave priority to human resource investments and support for smallholder agriculture,” and as a result, “smallholder agriculture expanded rapidly during the first half of the 1980s and social indicators improved quickly.” From 1980 to 1990 infant mortality decreased from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced from 128 to 58 per 1000 live births, and immunisation increased from 25% to 80% of the population. Also, “child malnutrition fell from 22% to 12% and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrolment rate than average for developing countries”.
In 1991, the government of Zimbabwe, short on hard currency and under international pressure, embarked on an austerity program. The World Bank’s 1995 report explained that such reforms were required because Zimbabwe was unable to absorb into its labour market the many graduates from its impressive education system and that it needed to attract additional foreign investments. The reforms, however, undermined the livelihoods of Zimbabwe’s poor majority; the report noted “large segments of the population, including most smallholder farmers and small scale enterprises, find themselves in a vulnerable position with limited capacity to respond to evolving market opportunities. This is due to their limited access to natural, technical and financial resources, to the contraction of many public services for smallholder agriculture, and to their still nascent links with larger scale enterprises.”
Moreover, these people were forced to live on marginal lands as Zimbabwe’s best lands were reserved for mainly white landlords growing cash crops for export, a sector of the economy favoured by the IMF’s plan. For the poor on the communal lands, “existing levels of production in these areas are now threatened by the environmental fragility of the natural resource base and the unsustainability of existing farming practices”. The International Monetary Fund later suspended aid, saying reforms were “not on track.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), life expectancy at birth for Zimbabwean men has since become 37 years and is 34 years for women, the lowest such figures for any nation. The World Bank’s 1995 report predicted this decline in life expectancy from its 1990 height of 64 years when, commenting on health care system cuts mandated by the IMF structural adjustment programme, it stated that “The decline in resources is creating strains and threatening the sustainability of health sector achievements”.
While Zimbabwe has suffered in many other measures under Mugabe, as a former schoolteacher he has been well known for his commitment to education. As of 2008, Zimbabwe had a literacy rate of 90%, the highest in Africa. However, Catholic Archbishop of Zimbabwe Pius Ncube decried the educational situation in the country, saying, among other scathing indictments of Mugabe, “We had the best education in Africa and now our schools are closing”. Prior to its suspension in 2009, the Zimbabwe dollar had suffered from the second-highest hyperinflation rate of any currency in modern times.
Accusations of racism
Views on homosexuality
Mugabe has been uncompromising in his opposition to LGBT rights in Zimbabwe. In September 1995, Zimbabwe’s parliament introduced legislation banning homosexual acts. In 1997, a court found Canaan Banana, Mugabe’s predecessor and the first President of Zimbabwe, guilty of 11 counts of sodomy and indecent assault. He has previously referred to lesbians and gays as being “worse than dogs and pigs”.
In 2015, Mugabe was condemned by several United Nations agencies for his remarks on homosexuality.
Honours and revocations
In 1994, Mugabe was appointed an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II. This entitled him to use the postnominal letters GCB, but not to use the title “Sir.” In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee called for the removal of this honour in 2003, and on 25 June 2008, the Queen cancelled and annulled the honorary knighthood after advice from the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom. “This action has been taken as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided.”
Mugabe holds several honorary degrees and doctorates from international universities, awarded to him in the 1980s; at least three of these have since been revoked. In June 2007, he became the first international figure ever to be stripped of an honorary degree by a British university, when the University of Edinburgh withdrew the degree awarded to him in 1984. On 12 June 2008, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Board of Trustees voted to revoke the law degree awarded to Mugabe in 1986; this is the first time one of its honorary degrees has been revoked. Similarly, on 12 September 2008, Michigan State University revoked an honorary law degree that it awarded Mugabe in 1990. He has been appointed as a UN “leader of Tourism”.