Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe, who was once feted as an independence hero but whose 37-year rule left his country deeply divided and nearly broke, has died at the age of 95.
To his loyal supporters, he remained until his death the revered leader who ushered in independence after bringing an end to white-minority rule. But to his critics, Mugabe was the caricature of an African dictator who oppressed his opponents and ruined a country to retain power, which he was forced to relinquish, at the age of 93, in 2017.
Rumors had swirled around the health of the ex-president, who spent months in a hospital in Singapore earlier this year. Details of what ailed him were a closely guarded secret.
Mugabe — who infamously claimed that “only God” could ever remove him from office — was deposed in a coup in 2017, when members of his own party turned against him after he dismissed his longtime ally, then-vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, to make way for his much younger wife Grace.
Fearing an erosion of their influence, senior security forces officials ousted him, replacing him with Mnangagwa.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” tweeted President Mnangagwa on Friday.
“Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
A former teacher, Mugabe was imprisoned for ten years for opposing the white-minority government of Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was known before independence). After his release, he orchestrated a guerilla war which won freedom for his country in 1980. As Zimbabwe’s first prime minister, he was at first lauded internationally for building schools and hospitals.
However, the former champion of one man, one vote soon mounted a brutal crackdown against the opposition led by the late nationalist politician Joshua Nkomo. For decades, he maintained his grip on the country with the support of the army and a series of controversial elections.
His rule was marked by the violent eviction of thousands of white farmers in 2000, and increasingly dubious elections, including one in 2008 which he lost to Morgan Tsvangirai, sparking political violence that human rights groups say claimed over 200 lives.
Widely seen as a disgraced aging despot desperately clinging to power, Mugabe’s rule finally came to an end at the hands of the regime he had spent decades building. ɭ�B�mX