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Robert Mugabe Will Be 'Remembered as a Villain'

Strongman ruled Zimbabwe for nearly 40 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2019 2:08 AM CDT
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In this Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 phot,o Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe clenches his fists as he delivers his speech at his party's 13th annual conference.   (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)
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(Newser) – Robert Mugabe has died thousands of miles away from the country he ruled for nearly 40 years. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's successor as president of Zimbabwe, says the former leader has died at the age of 95. In a tweet, Mnangagwa described Mugabe as an "icon of liberation" and the country's "founding father." Sources tell Reuters that Mugabe died in Singapore, where he had been in a hospital since April. Mugabe, born in what was then Rhodesia in 1924, was imprisoned for a decade without trial after criticizing the country's government in 1964. After a long and bitter guerrilla war, he became the country's first leader after the end of white minority rule and promised reconciliation. "But the hope that accompanied independence in 1980 dissolved into violence, corruption, and economic disaster," a BBC obituary notes.

Mugabe was prime minister until 1987, when he abolished the office and became president instead, an office he held until he was ousted in 2017. In the 1980s, he presided over a period of economic expansion—but also crushed opposition with a campaign of ethnic cleansing believed to have killed 20,000 people in Matabeleland. After rigged elections in 1999, the increasingly authoritarian Mugabe began seizing land from white farmers as part of a land reform program that contribution to hyperinflation and the crumbling of the economy, the Guardian reports. Amid increased repression, hundreds died in political violence. "He'll be remembered as a villain," says John Makumbe, a politics professor at the University of Zimbabwe. "His legacy was destroyed by his staying, his violence, his imposing his own political allies and rivals." (Read more Robert Mugabe stories.)

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