Photograph — AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Robert Mugabe is 91 today. Born 21 February 1924, he is one of Africa’s most controversial and divisive figures. A despot, dictator and racist to many, Mugabe is to several others a freedom fighter, great leader and the continent’s chief protagonists in the battle against western domination. His life and over three decades rule of poverty-stricken Zimbabwe have made him one of the world’s most interesting figures. Thanks to that, we present to you the 9+1 legacies of Mugabe; starring the noble, ignoble, heroic and villainous things about Africa’s oldest ever ruler.

A Friendless enemy and great lover

Young Mugabe during his Marriage to Sally. Source: ISF
Young Mugabe during his Marriage to Sally. Source: ISF

From his earliest the days, Robert Mugabe has never seen the need for friends. His younger brother is quoted as saying that the young mugabe’s only friends were his books. As a youth Mugabe was neither social nor physically active; a 2007 article in The Economist  notes that he never hung out with his peers, but instead preferred isolation. Over 7 decades since those youthful days, and the nonagenarian still barely has personal and political friendships of note.

Even Mugabe’s historic freedom fight does not mean he had many black friends, if anything, many of his fellow emancipation activists were his foes. The friendless trend has continued in power; he has fallen out with many of his cabinet members; from his earliest days as Prime Minister, when he ruled in an uneasy coalition with the ZAPU party whose leader he fired from office, to as recent as December, when he fired his Vice President Joice Mujuru for “planning to kill him”. Mugabe’s friends are fewer internationally; an irritant to the West for his aggressive anti-democratic and anti-white policies.  Many in Africa don’t particularly like him either; leaders like Mandela and Joaquim Chissano have called for him to vacate his leadership of Zimbabwe.

But as anti-social as Mugabe may seem, he is reportedly a very devoted family man. As a child, he was very close to his mother, who had to raise him alone after his father left them. His first wife Sally Mugabe was seen as Mugabe’s closest friend and adviser, and some critics suggest that Mugabe began to misrule Zimbabwe after her death in 1992 from a chronic kidney ailment. His second wife, Grace, is seen as a corrupting influence; her sometimes lavish European shopping sprees have led to the nickname “Gucci Grace”. In 2002 she was included in the 2002 EU travel sanctions on her husband with a British Labour Party member of the European Parliament, Glenys Kinnock, telling the BBC that the ban “will stop Grace Mugabe going on her shopping trips in the face of catastrophic poverty blighting the people of Zimbabwe”.

A devoutly religious and deadly evil man

Robert Mugabe (C) flanked by his wife Grace receive the communion during the holy mass for the closing of Extraordinary Synod held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square on October 19, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican
Robert Mugabe (C) flanked by his wife Grace receive the communion during the holy mass for the closing of Extraordinary Synod held by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square on October 19, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican Source: Zimbio

Mugabe was raised a Roman Catholic, and studied in missionary schools, including the exclusive Kutama College, headed by an Irish priest, Father Jerome O’Hea, who took him under his wing. Today he remains a very devoted catholic, regularly attends mass, and seldom misses the burial or installation of a new Pope in Rome. He is also reportedly very close to his priest, whom, according to The Economist, helps him through crisis times.

The flip side however, is a Mugabe who has been described in some quarters as been as worse as Adolf Hitler. John Sentamu, the Uganda-born Archbishop of York in the United Kingdom once called Mugabe “the worst kind of racist dictator.” Zimbabwean methodist bishop and nationalist leader, Abel Muzorewa, also condemned Mugabe’s political policies for causing too much pain and suffering to citizens of the country, whose independence they both fought for. The West, led by the United Kingdom, have several sanctions on Mugabe for alleged human rights abuses and anti-democratic policies. His alleged description of lesbians and gays as being “worse than dogs and pigs” also fuelled outrage in the western media. In 2007, Parade magazine ranked Mugabe the 7th worst dictator in the world, and two years later ranked him worst dictator of the year.

A praised and denounced intellectual

Several foreign universities have withdrawn their honorary awards to Mugabe.
Several foreign universities have withdrawn their honorary awards to Mugabe.

An internationally acclaimed intellectual, Mugabe earned his two Law degrees while he was in prison. Incarcerated between 1965 and 1974 for his freedom struggle against white rulers, he earned several degrees by correspondence courses, among them the Bachelor of Laws, and Master of Laws, from the University of London External Programme. Prior to these prison degrees, he already had the Bachelor of Arts from the University of Fort Hare in 1951. In total, Mugabe had not less than seven meritoriously awarded degrees and several other honorary awards.

But many of Mugabe’s honorary degrees and doctorates from international universities, awarded to him in the 1980s, have since been revoked. In June 2007, he became the first international figure ever to be stripped of an honorary degree by a British university, when the University of Edinburgh withdrew the degree awarded to him in 1984. On 12 June 2008, the University of Massachusetts Amherst Board of Trustees voted to revoke the law degree awarded to Mugabe in 1986; this is the first time one of its honorary degrees has been revoked. Similarly, on 12 September 2008, Michigan State University revoked an honorary law degree that it awarded Mugabe in 1990.

The first class educator

Mugabe's love for education reflects in the educational achievement of Zimbabwe
Mugabe’s love for education reflects in the educational achievement of Zimbabwe

Once a teacher, always a teacher; so it goes with Mugabe. First trained as a teacher in Zambia, Mugabe lectured in Ghana in the late 1950s, and even as leader of Zimbabwe, has not stopped tutoring. Unsurprisingly, Education is one of, if not Zimbabwe’s only success story under Mugabe’s iron rule.

The school teacher’s 35 year rulership has seen Zimbabwe maintain the highest adult literacy rate in Africa which in 2013 was 90.70 percent; nearly 30 percent better than Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy. But the standard and value of education in the Southern African country has been on a steady decline, and it is blamed on the man who made it better in the first place.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Zimbabwe’s adult literacy rate stood at 92 percent in 2010, 5 percent worse than the 97 percent recorded in the 2002 census. The education department has stated that 20,000 teachers have left Zimbabwe since 2007 and that half of Zimbabwe’s children have not progressed beyond primary school. Teacher’s strike due to low pay is now common, while students now suffer the cost of school fees and the skyrocketing poverty that means their parents cannot afford the price of uniforms. School education was made free in 1980, but since 1988, the government has steadily increased the charges attached to school enrolment until they now greatly exceed the real value of fees in 1980.

From indefinite Prisoner to indefinite President

Mugabe has now been in power for 35 years, the total amount of years his country has been independent.
Mugabe has now been in power for 35 years, the total amount of years his country has been independent.

In 1965 Robert Mugabe was imprisoned indefinitely for the murder of a white farmer Petrus Oberholzer. His detention, which lasted for ten years, has been credited with burnishing his image as a major leader of the black struggle against white-minority rule. Six years after his release from jail he became the prime minister of fully independent Zimbabwe, and has held the leadership of the country ever since. In 1987, the position of Prime Minister was abolished and Mugabe assumed the new office of executive President of Zimbabwe gaining additional powers in the process. In the list of Africa’s current longest rulers, he is now only behind Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, both of whom have been leaders of their countries for the past 36 years.

Mugabe has a self-awarded degree in Violence

Robert Mugabe staging a rally in Zimbabwe before his rise to power. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Robert Mugabe staging a rally in Zimbabwe before his rise to power. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Economist’s quoted Mugabe as once claiming that in addition to his seven academic degrees, he had a “degree in violence”. Even if that degree was self awarded, it is utmostly deserving; all through Mugabe’s political career–from his activist days to heading the government– he has been involved in countless allegations of violence. In 1975, after disagreement with party member Ndabaningi Sithole, Mugabe formed a militant ZANU faction, leaving Sithole to lead the moderate Zanu (Ndonga) party. Many opposition leaders mysteriously died during this time (Including one who allegedly died in a car crash, although the car was rumoured to have been riddled with bullet holes at the scene of the accident). In 1982, while fresh in power, he was accused of genocide for the killing of over 20,000 civilians in Matabeleland, under the guise of reorientation and quelling of armed dissidence.

In recent years, Opposition leaders have also been arrested and beating regularly, among them Mugabe’s arch rival Morgan Tsvangirai. In 2008, the Times charged that on 12 June 2008, Mugabe’s militia murdered Dadirai Chipiro, the wife of Mugabe’s political opponent, Patson Chipiro, by burning her alive with a petrol bomb after severing her hands and feet.

‘Impeccable record’ of de-developing Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean dollar, before the Central Bank put it out for good
The Zimbabwean dollar, before the Central Bank put it out for good

Mugabe will go down in history as the leader that led the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country in this century. Zimbabwe maintained positive economic growth throughout the 1980s (5% GDP growth per year) and 1990s (4.3% GDP growth per year). However the economy took a sharp turn for the worst in the 2000s, declining by nearly 50 percent by 2003. This economic collapse has been blamed on the mismanagement and corruption by Mugabe’s leadership, his eviction of more than 4,000 white farmers in the controversial land redistribution of 2000 and the country’s involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from 1998 to 2002, which drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. However, the Zimbabwean government and its supporters blame western policies and sanctions, brought on by the eviction of white farmers, as the real cause of the economic collapse.

By 2007, Zimbabwe’s formal unemployment rate stood at 80 percent, while inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998, to an official estimated high of 11,200,000% in August 2008 according to the country’s Central Statistical Office. This state of hyperinflation led the central bank to introduce a new 100 billion dollar note. But in 2009, the Finance ministry began to permit Zimbabweans to use other, more stable currencies to do business, and, soon after, suspended the Zimbabwean Dollar indefinitely, in an effort to counteract runaway inflation and foster economic growth. Zimbabwe now allows trade in the United States Dollar and various other currencies such as the South African rand, euro, Sterling, and Botswana pula.

However, since the formation of the Unity Government in 2009, the Zimbabwean economy has been showing signs of recovery. GDP grew by more than 5% in the year 2009 and 2011. In November 2010, the IMF described the Zimbabwean economy as “completing its second year of buoyant economic growth”. The pan-African investment bank IMARA released a favourable report in February 2011 on investment prospects in Zimbabwe, citing an improved revenue base and higher tax receipts. In October last year, the EU lifted trade sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and this month handed out a $270 million stimulus package to boost economic development in the country.

He Began A Revolution, and Ended It

Mugabe, the founder and betrayer of a revolution
Mugabe, the founder and betrayer of a revolution

 At the beginning stages of his stay in power, Mugabe gave priority to human resource investments and support for smallholder agriculture which led to the rapid expansion of smallholder agriculture and a quick improvement in social indicators during the first half of the 1980s. Between 1980 and 1990 infant mortality decreased significantly as well as under five mortality. Other indicators like immunization rates, child malnutrition fell and life expectancy became much more positive. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrollment rate than average for developing countries, according to World Bank statistics.

1991 and everything began to go south. The government of Zimbabwe, short on hard currency and under international pressure, embarked on an austerity program. This program, encouraged by the IMF, has been partly blamed for the country’s downturn. Mugabe would soon implement drastic controversial programmes that would lead the IMF to suspend aid and western countries to impose sanctions. Life expectancy at birth for Zimbabwean men has since fallen to 37 years and 34 years for women, the lowest such figures for any nation, according to the WHO

He sits on The Throne of  Africa and Corruption

Africa’s longest-serving leader is still viewed with respect by many of the continent after he led Zimbabwe to independence, however he is subject to travel bans in the European Union and US
Africa’s longest-serving leader is still viewed with respect by many of the continent after he led Zimbabwe to independence, however he is subject to travel bans in the European Union and US

Regardless of the many scandals leveled on him and internal and external disapproval, Robert Mugabe was, in January, elected head of the African Union.  He is the current chairman of regional body, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

Zimbabwe is considered one of the most corrupt nations in the world, ranking 156th out of 175 countries on the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. The organisation also estimated that Zimbabwean officials received nearly $2 billion through corruption in 2012, rivaling the economically much larger South Africa and Nigeria. The Marange diamond fields, discovered in 2006, are considered the biggest diamond find in over a century with the potential to improve the fiscal situation of the country considerably, but almost all revenues from the field have disappeared into the pockets of army officers and ZANU-PF politicians. In terms of carats produced, the Marange field is one of the largest diamond producing projects in the world, estimated to produce 12 million carats in 2014 worth over $350 million. Ironically, in late January 2013, the Zimbabwean finance ministry reported that it had only $217 in the treasury and would apply for donations to finance the coming elections that is estimated to cost $107 million. According to the opposition, Mugabe plans to spend an estimated $1 million on his 91st birthday celebration.

The Man With 9+1 Lives

Robert Mugabe, stumbles  on Wednesday 4th February after addressing a crowd at Harare Airport. Source:Gistmania
Robert Mugabe, stumbles on Wednesday 4th February after addressing a crowd at Harare Airport. Source: Gistmania

Several analysts have for years predicted Mugabe’s imminent departure from office, but the nonagenarian has put them all to shame. Internal and external efforts to end his iron rule have been futile, so much so that attention has been switched to waiting for the he finally dies. For those unhappy with his rule, that day cannot come fast enough.

In June 2005, a report that Mugabe had entered a hospital for tests on his heart fuelled rumours that he had died of a heart attack. These reports were later dismissed by a Mugabe spokesman. Another speculation arose in 2010 that Mugabe was dying of cancer, the rumours were strengthened by a WikiLeaks report that Mugabe’s close friend, Gideon Gono, had revealed that Mugabe had prostate cancer that would likely kill him by 2013. The speculation resurfaced in May 2014, when Mugabe was seen visiting a hospital with a well-known cancer clinic. Regardless of the death prediction, he continues to rule, and once declared, during his 90th birthday, “I am made to feel youthful and as energetic as a boy of nine”.

Although 91, he and his supporters still believe death is faraway, not even a recent public stumble is wavering their confidence.

Research by Peter Oyagbile

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