Looking Back: After 37 Years, Mugabe is Out

By: Max Mittleman

As “[a]rmored vehicles and soldiers patrolled the streets” soldiers took over the national radio and claimed, “this is not a military takeover.”[1] This was the culmination of a tumultuous week surrounding President Robert Mugabe. On Tuesday November 21, 2017 after nearly four decades of leading, Robert Mugabe resigned.[2] This post will go through a history of Robert Mugabe as a person, leader, and ousted leader.


Early Life

Born on February 21, 1924, Robert Mugabe was the son of a migrant worker and catechism teacher.[3] He had 5 siblings; however, his brother Raphael died and a few years later his oldest brother Michael also died.[4] Following the death of Michael, the family fell apart when his father abandoned the family and remarried.[5] Father Jerome O’Hea, the village’s anglo-Irish headmaster, took the place of Robert’s father and encouraged his studies.[6] Robert was notoriously isolated from children his age and was teased relentlessly, leading to the defiance and strength he was known for.[7]


Teaching Career

With the good fortune of his relationship with Father O’Hea, Mugabe was able to afford tuition for his education.[8] In 1951, Mugabe obtained a BA degree in English.[9] He returned to his hometown to teach, using the lessons of humility O’Hea taught him.[10] Mugabe earned his BA in education during this time.[11] In 1955, Mugabe moved to Northern Rhodesia, where he taught for four years at a training college. Later, in 1958 Mugabe earned a BS in economics after moving to Ghana.[12] His teaching career ended around 1960, when Mugabe declared himself a Marxist and sought to improve educational opportunities for lower classes by participating in politics.[13]


Early Political Career

In the early 1960’s, Mugabe helped start a political party called the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).[14] Upon returning to Southern Rhodesia in 1960, he found tens of thousands of displaced families by the new colonial government.[15] Violent protests broke out in contest to the oppressive leadership.[16] Not long after his return, Mugabe was elected public secretary of the National Democratic Party.[17] His strategy was to assemble a militant youth league to help garner support for black independence.[18] By 1961, Mugabe and his supporters were publicly discussing guerilla warfare to stop the oppression.[19] In 1963, Mugabe started the political party ZANU; however, that was not a clean start.[20] That year, Mugabe and many of his allies were arrested.[21] Arrested for the creation of ZANU, Mugabe was imprisoned for eleven years.[22] Following his imprisonment Mugabe went into exile in Zambia and Mozambique.[23]


Creation of Zimbabwe

In 1979, through alliances with African leaders and British-brokered peace talks, the independent state of Zimbabwe was created from Rhodesia.[24] This paved the way for Mugabe to return home and run for national election.[25] Mugabe, reluctant to agree with a British-made pact, won a landslide victory to become the country’s prime minister.[26] From 1980-1988, while pledging peace and unity, violence ensued, which led to an estimated 10,000 people killed by a Mugabe directed military brigade.[27] In 1988, after a change to the constitution Mugabe became president.[28] For a time there was calm, but by 2000 the condition of Zimbabwe was deteriorating and Mugabe supported gangs of young people began to seize white-owned farms.[29] This was followed by a government decree allowing the government itself to take white-owned farms without payment.[30]


The Decline

In 2008, Mugabe lost the presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai.[31] However, unwilling to lose his power, Mugabe demanded a recount.[32] A runoff was held and during that time Mugabe fiercely combatted Tsvangirai claiming “he would never rule Zimbabwe.”[33] The mounting pressure forced Tsvangirai’s withdrawal.[34] Again in 2013, Tsvangirai sought to unseat Mugabe, but was unsuccessful.[35] It should be noted that the 2013 election is rife with claims of vote rigging and fraudulent ballot counts.[36]

Turn to this year, Robert Mugabe had planned to name his wife his successor.[37] In the first week of November, Mugabe fired his long-time vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing him of disloyalty and disrespect.[38] A week later, armored vehicles surrounded his home.[39] Mugabe was officially on lockdown in his home with his wife.[40] The Zimbabwean defense forces maintained throughout that they were not engaging in a coup, but that they were targeting criminals around Mugabe.[41]

This was the first time there was a divide between Mugabe and his military that was seen in the public arena.[42] After the lockdown ensued, crowds flooded streets.[43] Joy overtook much of the population of Zimbabwe.[44] Many people, including veterans of the war for independence, who were long time Mugabe loyalists believe it is time for Mugabe to step down.[45]



Robert Mugabe was the leader of Zimbabwe for 37 years. His reign was one of the longest in history. The result: too much power, too much time, too much pain. After firing his long time Vice President, likely with the goal of naming his wife his successor, Mugabe had gone too far. The loyalty he had gained over the years was dead. Now, it looks as if Emmerson Mnangagwa, his recently fired vice president, will take over the helm of Zimbabwe. Under new leadership it will be interesting to see what happens next for Zimbabwe.


[1] Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Zimbabwe’s Army Seizes Control, Detains Mugabe and His Wife, NPR (Nov. 14, 2017), https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/14/564237707/tensions-increase-in-zimbabwe-as-troops-reportedly-patrol-the-capital.

[2] David McKenzie, Zimbabwe is under military control after army seizes power from Mugabe, CNN (Nov. 16, 2017), https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/14/africa/zimbabwe-military-chief-treasonable-conduct/index.html.

[3] Robert Mugabe, SAHO (Nov. 15, 2017), http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/robert-mugabe.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Robert Mugabe Biography, Biography (Nov. 22, 2017), https://www.biography.com/people/robert-mugabe-9417391.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Christopher Woolf, How Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s leader and clung on till now, PRI (Nov. 15, 2017), https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-11-15/how-robert-mugabe-became-zimbabwe-s-leader-and-clung-till-now.

[15] Biography supra note 8.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Jonah Engel Bromwich, Robert Mugabe’s Long Reign in Zimbabwe: A Timeline, NYTimes (Nov. 15, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/world/africa/robert-mugabe-history.html.

[22] Robert Mugabe, History, https://www.history.com/topics/robert-mugabe.

[23] Id.

[24] Bromwich supra note 21.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.

[31] Biography supra note 8.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Claire Phipps & Kevin Rawlinson, Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe confined to home as army takes control – as it happened, The Guardian (Nov. 15, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/nov/15/zimbabwe-army-control-harare-coup-robert-mugabe-live.

[38] Quist-Arcton supra note 1.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Phipps supra note 37.

[42] Quist-Arcton supra note 1.

[43] Zimbabwe crowds rejoice as they demand end to Mugabe rule, BBC (Nov. 18, 2018), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-42035981.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.