Zimbabwe’s former longtime ruler and strongman Robert Mugabe died Friday. He was 95. The poor African country’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the news on Twitter, describing the late leader as an “icon of liberation” and 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,” Mnangagwa wrote.
Mugabe was receiving treatment at a hospital in Singapore. His body is expected to be flown back to his country for mourning and burial soon.
Mugabe mounted Zimbabwe’s saddle in 1980, after it gained independence from the white minority that ruled it.
This was a time of great hope for this African nation. Nevertheless, this hope started to fade away in later years because of economic mismanagement, political uncertainties and Mugabe’s heavy-handed crackdown on opposition and dissent. His human rights violations were just shocking.
Zimbabwe’s economic ordeal dates back to 2000 when Mugabe’s administration started seizing thousands of farms from whites, a move that brought the man anger from the outside and wrath from the inside.
This was particularly so after what started as a national land reform program turned out to be a scheme for national deception, especially after Mugabe distributed the land seized from the whites to the senior members of his party, his relatives and his cronies.
The seizure of the white’s farms contributed to the collapse of Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector, a great loss for a country that was viewed for long as the breadbasket of the African continent.
This seizure was, however, part of Mugabe’s rhetoric against what he used to describe as ‘Western neo-colonialism’. This rhetoric made him a hero among sections of the Zimbabwean society, but a reviled figure in the West.
He used every occasion to encourage Africans to take control of their continent’s resources. Nevertheless, he failed to carry out what he preached at continental forums in his own country.
In the last years of his rule, Zimbabwe’s economy deteriorated greatly and poverty rates rose to unprecedented levels, leading to public discontent against his rule. This was why Mugabe had to rule with iron and fire.
In 1987, he crushed an uprising in western Matabeleland province. As time went by he worked tooth and nail to stay in power and further suppress the public and the opposition.
In March 2008, Mugabe and his party won controversial general elections that were described by international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, as “deeply flawed”.
The Zimbabwean leader was then re-elected in July 2013 and his ZANU–PF party won a two-thirds majority in the House of Assembly.
Mugabe could not, however, cling to power beyond November 2017, when he was forced to step down, ending the longest autocracy in the history of Africa.
As a ruler, he is remembers inside his country for his brutality, corruption and the embezzlement of huge amounts of money by him, his family members and his cronies.
Nevertheless, outside his country, he is remembered as a “great son of Africa” like Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni described him after his death.
“I join His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa, the people of Zimbabwe and the entire African continent in mourning the demise of this great son of Africa,” Museveni wrote on Facebook.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described him as an “outstanding leader”.
“Mugabe would be remembered as a towering leader of the struggle for independence for the people of Zimbabwe and “an outstanding leader on the African continent,” he said.