Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe: a little background for busy people who want to be informed

Zimbabwe’s complicated. Is its former ruler Robert Mugabe a hero (for helping to bring an end to oppressive minority rule) or a ruthless dictator (for doing things like imprisoning people who tweet about him unfavorably)? Was his ousting in November a mark of progress or the start of instability? In order to talk and think about this country, you gotta know some background. This article is a simple start.


Early 1960’s, Rhodesia was a minority-controlled country (white), led by Ian Smith, who was Prime Minister when the country was a British colony.

At that time, land was taken from blacks, schools kept from them and they were excluded from the political process.

British policy changed and there was an attempt to hand power back to the black majority but Smith refused.

becomes Zimbabwe

After years of violent uprisings and resistance, in 1980, a settlement was reached and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe under the leadership of Robert Mugabe.

Economic growth and prosperity continued for the nation that was rich in natural resources, but two droughts and a changing international economy eventually led to problems.

Mugabe’s government stepped in to help with the economy

Things worsened because of bad policy decisions and corruption.

For example, government funds intended for veterans were misused. When local papers reported on it, protesters took to the streets.

and the situation worsens

In addition to bad policy decisions, Zimbabwe entered the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998. This war cost several million (U.S.) dollars a day.

And, commercial farming was super important to the economy of the country. But as land was taken back from white farmers–correcting the injustices of decades ago– and redistributed to black ownership, these new owners did not have the benefit of experience. Farms were less productive.

By 2003, Zimbabwe’s economy was the fastest shrinking in the world

at 18 percent per year.

Food shortages and economic depression followed.

Inflation reached 231 million percent.

Read more of Chidochashe L. Munangagwa’s excellent analysis here.

the unpopular Gucci Grace

Despite unbelievable economic hardship, including food shortages, Mugabe’s wife a.k.a. “Gucci Grace” was seen as a shopaholic, 52-year-old brings-nothing-to-the-table politician with a quick temper and violent impulses.

November 2017, Mugabe fired his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa so that Grace would succeed him.

the army took control

Mugabe was forced out, and replaced with Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Emmerson Mnangagwa becomes president

Mnangagwa was a longtime ally of Mugabe and a senior member of the ruling party. He served as the first Vice President of Zimbabwe, starting in 2014.

With his new role as president, Mnangagwa promises economic growth and restoration.

But to many Zimbabweans, Mnangagwa is more feared than the leader he replaces.


Which leads us to a question: Is change coming to this beleaguered country? Or is it just more of the same? Read the Debater article here.

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