President of Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe has been the leader of ZIMBABWE since the country achieved independence in 1980. Born and educated in a Catholic mission in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe became a teacher. In 1956 he moved to the newly independent nation of GHANA. Several years later, he returned to his home country and entered politics. At the time, white colonists led by Ian Smith controlled the government.
Mugabe founded a political party called the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). When it split along ethnic lines between SHONA and NDEBELE members, he joined the Shona-dominated Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1963 he fled Southern Rhodesia after being charged with speaking out against the government. He returned in 1964 and was jailed for almost ten years. International pressure and civil war finally toppled Smith’s government, and in 1980 Mugabe was chosen prime minister in the country’s first free elections. However, political rivalry with ZAPU soon led to another civil war. Mugabe and ZANU eventually won the struggle, and in 1987 Mugabe became the first president of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe achieved political success by bringing opponents into his government. He unified the two opposing political parties and named the leader of the former ZAPU party (a member of the rival Ndebele ethnic group) as vice president. He convinced white landowners to join his party to retain their political influence. However, Mugabe’s rule gradually became harsher. By 2001, authorities were censoring and arresting those who criticized the government, and support for Mugabe was dwindling both among the people of Zimbabwe and among other nations. (See also Colonialism in Africa; Independence Movements; Southern Africa, History.)