Name at birth: Robert Gabriel Mugabe
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was the first prime minister of independent Zimbabwe -- formerly South Rhodesia -- where he established one-party rule and became executive president in 1987. Once a teacher in North Rhodesia and Ghana, he became involved in nationalist politics in the late 1950s. Mugabe was "detained" by the white government of Ian Smith for his actions (1964-74), and after his release helped lead the armed struggle for independence. He was named Prime Minister of the newly formed Zimbabwe in 1980 and re-elected in 1985. He was named Executive President in December of 1987, after the post of prime minister was abolished. By 1989 he'd managed to unite the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) to become the unchallenged boss. A hero of the struggle to end white rule, Mugabe's early reputation as a grassroots leader has eroded after three decades of autocratic rule, and his advanced age has led to much speculation about who will succeed him.