Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe forced to resign in 2017 after a 37-year rule whose initial promise was eroded by economic turmoil, disputed elections and human rights violations, has died. He was 95 years old.
His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, confirmed Mugabe's death in a tweet on Friday and cried him as an "icon of liberation." He did not provide details.
Mugabe, who assumed power after the white minority government ended in 1980, blamed Zimbabwe's economic problems for international sanctions and once said he wanted to rule for life. But the growing discontent over the fractured leadership of the South African country and other problems caused military intervention, dismissal procedures by parliament and large street demonstrations for their removal.
The announcement of Mugabe's resignation on November 21, 2017 after he initially ignored the increasing calls to quit smoking triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare. Late at night, the cars honked and people danced and sang in a show of freedom of expression that would have been impossible during their years in power and reflected the hope of a better future.
On February 21, 2018, Mugabe celebrated his first birthday since his resignation in a nearby solitude, far from the lavish affair of recent years. While the government that withdrew him with military assistance had declared his birthday as a national holiday, his successor and former deputy Mnangagwa did not mention it in a televised speech that day.
Mugabe's decline in his last years as president was partly related to the political ambitions of his wife, Grace, a reckless and divisive figure whose faction of the ruling party finally lost in a power struggle with Mnangagwa supporters, who was close of the military.
Despite Zimbabwe's decline during his rule, Mugabe remained defiant, criticizing the West for what he called his neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources, a populist message that was often a success even in many nations. of the continent. The strong man model and moved towards democracy.
Mugabe enjoyed acceptance among his peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors.
Towards the end of his government, he served as the rotating president of the African Union of 54 nations and the Southern African Development Community of 15 nations. His criticism of the International Criminal Court was well received by regional leaders who also thought it was being used unfairly to attack Africans.
"They are the ones who say they gave Christianity to Africa," Mugabe said of the West during a visit to South Africa. "We say: & # 39; We came, we saw and we were conquered & # 39;".
With his impeccably tailored suit, Mugabe, as leader, maintained a calendar of international events and trips that challenged his advanced age, although signs of fatigue increased towards the end.
He fell after getting off a plane in Zimbabwe, read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament and seemed to be sleeping during a press conference in Japan.
However, his longevity and the frequently faded rumors of supporters of ill health delighted and enraged opponents who had sardonically predicted that he would live forever.
"Do you want me to hit you on the floor to realize that I'm still there?" Mugabe told a state television interviewer who asked him in early 2016 about retirement plans.
After independence, Mugabe approached the whites after a long war between the black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known. He emphasized education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished and Zimbabwe was a regional barn.
However, a brutal military campaign against an uprising in the western province of Matabeleland that ended in 1987 predicted a bitter turn in the fortunes of Zimbabwe.
As the years passed, Mugabe was widely accused of staying in power through violence and electoral fraud, especially in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.
"I have many degrees in violence," Mugabe once boasted an election campaign, raising his fist.
"You see this fist, it can crush your face."
Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another election marred by alleged irregularities, although he dismissed his critics as losers.
Amidst political turmoil, Zimbabwe's economy, traditionally rich in agriculture and minerals, was deteriorating. Factories were closing, unemployment was rising and the country abandoned its currency for the US dollar in 2009 due to hyperinflation.
Economic problems often date back to the violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began around the year 2000.
The agrarian reform was supposed to take much of the most fertile land in the country, owned by some 4,500 white descendants of settlers mainly from the British and South African colonial times, and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe granted major farms to the leaders of the ruling party, party supporters, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.
Mugabe was born in Zvimba, 60 kilometers west of the capital of Harare. As a child, he took care of his grandfather's cattle and goats, fished sea bream in muddy water wells, played football and "boxed a lot," as he later recalled.
Mugabe lacked the easy charisma of Nelson Mandela, the leader and contemporary anti-apartheid who became the first black president of South Africa in 1994 after reconciling with his former white rulers. But he attracted fans in some sectors for taking a hard line with the West, and could disarm despite his sometimes hard behavior.
"The gift of politicians is never to stop talking until people say & # 39; Ah, we are tired & # 39;" he said at a press conference in 2015. "Now you are tired. I say thank you."