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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 has been suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations and he himself is banned from entering the European Union.

Mugabe speaking at the United Nations General Assembly

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.

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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).

He was detained with other nationalist leaders in 1964 and remained in prison for ten years. On his release he resumed leadership 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 Mugabe assumed the new office of executive President of Zimbabwe, with additional powers. 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.

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.

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 and urged them to stay in Zimbabwe. 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[?], 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 and dictatorial 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. The murder of some white farming families and their black staff in this process has led to widespread international criticism, 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 served in effect as 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 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.

Foreign Opposition to Mugabe

Nobel Peace Prize winner, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Mugabe a "caricature of an African dictator." He has been sharply condemned by Amnesty International, charging that he has committed human rights abuses against minority Ndebeles[?] , the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), white landowning families, and homosexuals. He is now banned from entering the European Union and Zimbabwe under his rule has been suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations.

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 belive 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.

The nomenclature of the modern state of Zimbabwe has undergone a number of changes. In the twentieth century it has been called Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and currently Zimbabwe. All refer to largely the same geopolitical entity.

The name changes also indicated different systems of government. Southern Rhodesia was a British colony until the mid 1960s, when then Prime Minister Ian Smith illegally declared independence as a republic. However his "state" remained unrecognised abroad and was expelled from the Commonweath of Nations. In its latter years the country was called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Zimbabwe refers to the independent republic created through the Lancaster House Accords. It operated initially under a Westminster system of government, with a symbolic president and a prime minister. It now operates under an executive presidency.

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