Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, at the age of 95, passed away. The news broke after an announcement from current Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa noted the former leader’s passing.
Mugabe was a former teacher who rose to power after Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, declared independence from Britain in 1980. Rhodesia was ruled by a white minority, and Zimbabwe’s founding was heralded as an important moment for black Africans and self-rule. Mugabe was imprisoned by the Rhodesian government for eleven years due to suspicions that he was a leader of the anti-government guerillas, and as National Public Radio (NPR) said, “was heralded as a model leader” when he took the presidency.
His initial message, upon independence, was for all Zimbabweans to work in harmony and inclusion. He said, “The phase we are entering, the phase of independence should be regarded as a phase conferring upon all of us — the people of Zimbabwe — whether we are black or white — full sovereignty, full democratic rights.” At the time, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of southern Africa.
However, according to NPR, Mugabe changed his tune twenty years later when he lost an election in 2000. He then encouraged violent seizure of white-owned farms, which led to significant economic decline for the country. Mugabe blamed white farmers for the country’s economic problems, which farmers supported his opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change party. He lost another election in 2008, but in the second round of those elections, Mugabe loyalists killed at least 200 people and his opponent withdrew from the runoff election. The West sanctioned Zimbabwe, which sent the country further down an economic decline rife with hyperinflation, poverty, and starvation.
The mainstream media did not mince words in describing Mugabe’s legacy after his death. NPR’s article pointed out that under his rule, “Zimbabwe suffered runaway inflation, mass unemployment and chronic food, water, electricity and fuel shortages. Hospitals stopped functioning.” The outlet quoted a veteran Zimbabwean journalist, Cris Chinaka, who said that Mugabe was “a national leader who ruined his own country.” CNN’s article painted a similar picture of hope at the start of Mugabe’s presidency, which then entered a downward spiral of economic collapse and authoritarianism. CNN noted that Mugabe’s critics said he “was the caricature of an African dictator who oppressed his opponents and ruined a country to retain power.” The Associated Press and NBC News echoed similar wording, calling Mugabe “the former president of Zimbabwe who became an African liberation hero after toppling white colonial rule but then led his country to economic collapse and the brink of starvation.”