Robert Gabriel Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe
First prime minister (1980– ) and president (1987– ) of Zimbabwe, born in Kutama, Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia). Largely self-educated, he became a teacher in 1942. After short periods in the National Democratic Party and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), he was briefly detained, but escaped to co-found, with Ndabaningi Sithole, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). After a 10-year detention in Rhodesia (1964–74) he spent five years in Mozambique gathering support in preparation for Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
His ZANU and the ZAPU forces of Joshua Nkomo united in 1976 to form the Patriotic Front, and later, a coalition government. Though Mugabe formerly espoused a pragmatic Marxism and declared his intention of turning Zimbabwe into a one-party state, multi-party elections were held in 1990 (which he won), and his party dropped all references to ‘Marxism–Leninism’, and ‘scientific socialism’ from its constitution in 1991.
He came to world attention in 2000 for initiating a land redistribution policy aimed at local white farmers, which resulted in intimidation, civil disturbance, some deaths, and much international condemnation. He won a fifth term in office in 2002, but controversy surrounding the election process led to Zimbabwe being suspended from the Commonwealth for a year, and following the decision to reaffirm the suspension in 2003 he announced that he would withdraw from the organization.