President Robert Mugabe (1924-Present)
A photo of President Mugabe from 1979. (Creative Commons photo. Attribution to author and info can be found here)
Mugabe was the rebel leader during the Bush War that would turn his popularity as a freedom fighter into a successful political career. Unfortunately for the people of Rhodesia, he quickly shifted from being a well-loved leader to becoming one of the worst leaders in the world.
After first becoming the Prime Minister of the country, he was elected the next president of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in a huge landslide election. There were questions at the time about whether he had used strong arm tactics to win these elections since there were many people who accused him of either intimidating people or simply rigging elections. These accusations didn’t stop as he continued in politics, as those who opposed him would die in strange circumstances or newspapers were shut down completely. Soon after gaining power he claimed that rebel groups were planning a coup d’état because they found a weapons cache in buildings belonging to the group. When this information got out the rebel groups launched their attack on numerous government buildings and even the home of Mugabe. Due to these attacks Mugabe called for a state of emergency and created a special police force to try to hunt down the rebels. This group, known as the 5th Brigade, killed between 3 and 4 thousand people during this round up of rebels associated with the attack. Most rebels were forced to dig their own graves before being shot in public. As is usually the case, Mugabe used this group and their attacks to consolidate even more power.
Mugabe was extremely popular at first. He was showered with praise by multiple leaders, even being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II (1994). He inherited an economy that wasn’t hurting to the same degree that many of the countries around him were. The socialist policies he used while in office seemed to work for a time period, but these gains were thrown off when he dabbled in land reform. Like many African countries, white farmers owned the vast majority of the best farmland (70% here), but since it had been stolen from the people by a group that constituted only 1% of the population it was an issue for many people. Mugabe tried to make a constitutional amendment to take the land and redistribute it to the people, but the amendment failed for a host of political reasons. This caused the military to simply walk into
towns and forcibly take the land using intimidation and torture. This eventually led agricultural production to plummet, going from a country that had a food surplus to one where many people were starving (2000 CE). The economy collapsed so spectacularly due to this that its one of the worst peacetime collapses in recent world history. Mugabe would move to help this by kicking 700,000 homeless people off their land, making people think he was going to push for better use of this land for farming. What he did, however, was to make a wonderful palace for himself on the land instead.
Over the years the view of Mugabe as a leader has shifted wildly against him. He is often referred to as one of the worst dictators in the world. Once the accusations of murder started to be heard his honorary degrees and knighthood would be taken back and countries all over the world started sanctions on the country. There are many people who also accuse him of racism based on his treatment of the white community. His clear history of Pan-Africanism and anti-Imperialism may be partially to blame for his actions with this demographic group, but he has not been a great friend to the white minority. The law that he passed to ban homosexual acts also caused a stir in the international community, although policies like this are far more popular in Africa than some may think. This law ended up being used as a tool to get rid of the previous president also, accusing him of 11 counts of acts of homosexuality.
Mugabe was taken out of power in a military coup d’état and then the country impeached him as their leader. He would sign the paperwork for this and received assurances that his family and businesses would not be hurt during this change over.