Mugabe, Robert Gabriel

Mugabe, Robert Gabriel mo͞ogäˈbē, –bā [key], 1924–2019, president of Zimbabwe (1987–2017). A founder of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in 1963 and a guerrilla leader, he was imprisoned (1964–74) by the white Rhodesian government. After becoming (1976) coleader of the Patriotic Front with Joshua Nkomo, who headed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), they negotiated independence in 1979. When Mugabe's ZANU won a majority in 1980, he became prime minister and chose reconciliation, including Nkomo and whites in his cabinet, but by 1982 he had broken with Nkomo and brutally turned on Nkomo's supporters. After Mugabe was elected president in 1987, a ZANU-ZAPU merger was negotiated (1988), returning Nkomo to the government but leaving Mugabe supreme. Reelected in 1990 and 1996, Mugabe was forced to abandon his commitment to a one-party Marxist state by 1991, but he nonetheless consolidated power, virtually eliminating opposition, and his regime became increasingly autocratic. Mugabe was an aggressive supporter of sanctions against South Africa and aided the African National Congress before the lifting of apartheid.

By 2000 support for Mugabe had dropped dramatically in urban areas; a constitutional change to increase presidential power lost at the polls, and an opposition party later won nearly half the elected seats in parliament. He was reelected in 2002 in a vote marked by government intimidation of the opposition and charges of vote rigging. The 2008 president election was similarly marred, but opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won a plurality of the vote and forced a runoff; Tsvangirai was subsequently driven to withdraw by violence against his supporters and threats against himself. Before the end of 2008, however, Mugabe was forced to agree to a power-sharing government with the opposition, which took office in 2009. His reelection in 2013 was again marked by charges of irregularites. In 2017 he fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in what was seen as an attempt to appoint his wife to the post. After the army then seized control of the capital and the parliament moved to impeach him, he resigned as President of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power and Mnangagwa succeeded him.

See S. Onslow and M. Plaut, Robert Mugabe (2018); S. Chan, Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence (2d ed. 2019); D. B. Moore, Mugabe's Legacy: Coups, Conspiracies, and the Conceits of Power in Zimbabwe (2022).

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