Robert Mugabe (pictured) has reigned as the President of Zimbabwe since 1987, a rule that has been marked with controversy, tragedies, and triumphs. Today, the man known as “Gushungo” celebrates his 91st birthday and shows no signs of resigning from his post anytime soon.
Mugabe was born Robert Gabriel Mugabe in 1924. His father was Malawian, and his mother was part of the Shona people, the largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe. Mugabe was raised as a Roman Catholic, as Christian missions were prominent in the region where he was raised. Zimbabwe was known as Southern Rhodesia at the time and a colony of the British Crown.
While many of Mugabe’s people suffered oppression and limited education, he was able to go to good schools. Under the guidance of Father O’Hea, who headed the Jesuit mission school Mugabe attended, the future leader learned a number of values that would influence the later part of his life.
Mugabe later became a teacher himself, earning his Bachelor of Education degree in 1953 via correspondence courses. After a move to Northern Rhodesia, Mugabe taught while taking correspondence courses at the University of London. He moved to Ghana and earned his Bachelor’s degree in economics in 1958.
While in Ghana, Mugabe embraced Marxism and attached himself to the Ghanaian government’s aims to provide opportunities for all. After returning to his hometown in Southern Rhodesia to introduce his family to his fiancé, Mugabe saw that Whites had overtaken the region and denied Black majority rule.
This angered Mugabe, and he became part of a large protest in July 1960 while promoting Marxist values. Weeks later, Mugabe was elected the public secretary of the National Democratic Party. Mugabe formed a militant youth wing charged with spreading the word of Black independence in Rhodesia, but they were banned by the Rhodesian government in 1961.
The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) was formed by supporters of independence and led by Joshua Nkomo. The union was the first of its sort and demanded to speak with the United Nations to have the British rule challenged and altered.
Mugabe and others grew frustrated with Nkomo, who didn’t press the issue to their standards. Mugabe suggested sparking a guerrilla war. In 1963, Mugabe formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) with former ZAPU members.
Mugabe was arrested that year and was in prison for more than 10 years.
From jail, Mugabe used secret communication to launch guerrilla warfare against Rhodesia and earned two law degrees.
In 1974, Mugabe was allowed to leave prison by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith. Mugabe was slated to go to a meeting in Northern Rhodesia but instead escaped and formed a team of soldiers.
Mugabe led this brutal exchange throughout the rest of the decade, which wrecked the nation. Prime Minister Smith attempted to work with Mugabe, but the changeover to Black majority rule would happen with the British Crown observing the shift of power.
Southern Rhodesia became the Independent Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980, and Mugabe was elected Prime Minister under the ZANU party. In 1981, clashes between ZANU and ZAPU started to take place and waged on for years.
In 1985, Mugabe won re-election amid the battles. In 1987, missionaries working in the region were killed by Mugabe supporters and sparked a union between ZANU and ZAPU. The following week after the agreement, Mugabe was elected President of Zimbabwe.
Nkomo became one of his top ministers in the new government. Mugabe looked to tackle the woeful economy of the country with a five-year recovery plan in 1989 and there was expansive growth in farming, mining, and other industries. During this period that lasted until 1994, Mugabe’s first wife, Sarah, passed and he then married his mistress, Grace Marufu.
The Zimbabwe public became disenchanted with Mugabe in the mid-1990s because of his seizure of farmland from White owners without paying back the Black owners who previously owned the land.
There was also Mugabe’s insistence on a one-party government that ensured he would remain in his post. Mugabe also was criticized for his highly paid government workers while working class citizens suffered.
And while Mugabe sought money from other nations for land distribution, they balked at his political and economical practices; since Mugabe had not addressed the needs of rural Zimbabwe, the countries refused to give money to his cause.
In March 2008, Mugabe lost an election to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposing Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mugabe bitterly demanded a recount, and his followers attacked and killed Tsvangirai’s supporters. That June, a run-off election was supposed to be held, but Tsvangirai withdrew from the race.
Although Mugabe and Tsvangirai struck a reluctant partnership, Mugabe still managed to seize most of the power for himself.
Since then, the European Union and the United States have placed travel and financial sanctions on Zimbabwe, but Mugabe claims the sanctions are in place because he seized White-owned farms in his country and resettled his people.
In 2013, Mugabe won 61 percent of the vote, which was heavily monitored by the United Nations and the African Union. Mugabe has said in interviews that he plans to run again in 2018.
See photos of Robert Mugabe here: