Robert Mugabe’s Long Reign in history
There he joined the movement led by Joshua Nkomo, who was the patriarch of the African nationalist struggle in the country. He became a leader in it, as the National Democratic Party’s publicity secretary, and gave up teaching.
At the time, the British government was seeking a path forward in the country, as racial resentment swelled. Mr. Mugabe’s stance in favor of political violence put him at odds with Mr. Nkomo. Mr. Mugabe formed the Zimbabwe African National Union.
In 1963, Mr. Mugabe and many of his allies were arrested, and he spent 11 years in prison.
The Prison Years: 1964-1975
As Mr. Mugabe was beginning his long term in prison, Rhodesia’s white minority, which had won power by opposing African nationalism, unilaterally declared independence from Britain.
That government refused to let Mr. Mugabe attend the funeral of his only child, who died while he was in prison, which stoked his resentment of the regime. During his years in prison, he organized classes among the inmates and continued to communicate with members of his party who were on the outside.
Rise to Power: 1975-1980
After his time in prison Mr. Mugabe left Rhodesia in 1975 for Mozambique, which had just attained independence, and worked to win the acceptance of the guerrillas from his political party who in 1972 had begun to fight against the Rhodesian ruling party.
Eventually becoming the voice of the guerrilla movement, Mr. Mugabe became known on the world stage. In 1976, he was forced back into an alliance with Mr. Nkomo under pressure from African leaders and, after British-brokered peace talks in 1979 that established the independent state of Zimbabwe and set the stage for a national election, Mr. Mugabe returned home from exile.
Independence and Violence: 1980-1988
Mr. Mugabe was reluctant to agree to the British pact. But he won a resounding victory in the new country’s election to become prime minister, after taking pains not to alienate the country’s white populace.
After taking power, he pledged to oversee a government whose watchwords would be peace and unity. But within the next two years, he dismissed Mr. Nkomo from his cabinet, as his followers began to battle those of his former ally.
It was the prelude to more violence. Between 1983 and 1985, Mr. Mugabe sent a military brigade into the country’s western region, where much of Mr. Nkomo’s support was based, to hunt down dissidents. An estimated 10,0000 people were killed in the campaign, the vast majority of them civilians.
The Executive President: 1988-2008
After a change in the country’s constitution, Mr. Mugabe became president in 1988, a vastly more powerful role than prime minister. For the next 12 years, he went relatively unchallenged, as government investments in education and health led the country to prosper for a time.
But in the 1990s, things began to deteriorate, and in 2000, facing newly empowered political opponents, Mr. Mugabe supported gangs of young men who had begun to seize white-owned farms. Soon afterward, he decreed that the government itself could seize farms without paying the landowners.
The uprising came at a high cost, as food shortages increased and the economy declined. Mr. Mugabe faced increased international pressure to step down.
A Slow, Then Rapid, Decline: 2008-2017
Mr. Mugabe’s singular position as one of the longest-reigning heads of the anticolonialist movement made it difficult for international pressure to have a direct impact.
Within the country, he clung to power by any means necessary. In disputed elections in 2008, beatings and killing of opposition supporters forced his opponent to withdraw from the race, even after he had outpolled Mr. Mugabe in a presidential vote.
Mr. Mugabe won disputed elections again in 2013 making it seem likely that he would remain in power for as long as he was able to rule. But this week’s sudden coup, which came with little warning, seems likely to mark an unexpected end to his 37 years in power.