The former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, died at 95 on September 6, 2019 in Singapore, after receiving medical treatment there. Mugabe began his political career as Prime Minister in 1980; however, when Zimbabwe’s parliament amended the constitution in 1987, Mugabe was declared the executive President. This new position allowed Mugabe to dissolve parliament, declare martial law, and run for an unlimited number of terms. During his time as President, Mugabe was a controversial figure. His early work focused on liberating Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism, and white minority rule. He was praised as a revolutionary in the struggle for African freedom from Western powers. Two years after he assumed the presidency, the economy sustained limited growth and Mugabe implemented new clinics and schools for the disenfranchised black population. However, resentment toward him and his administration grew as he began to seize land from the white population without compensation, and he refused to amend the one-party constitution. Mugabe’s government officials awarded themselves pay raises while the country’s inflation continued to soar. In 2008, Mugabe lost the presidential election to the leader of the opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai; however, Mugabe refused to cede power and demanded a re-election. In the interim, Mugabe had the opposition supporters attacked and killed, until Tsvangirai withdrew from the race. This violent repression of his political opponents led many critics to labelling him a dictator.
In 2017, after nearly 40 years in power, Robert Mugabe was removed from the presidency in a coup d’état led by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces. This came shortly after Mugabe dismissed the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and during a time when the President was medically unstable. Mugabe’s politically ambitious wife, Grace, stood to gain significant power as her husband grew sick; therefore, she was placed under house arrest with her husband so that Mnangagwa could take control of the government. While official impeachment proceedings were underway, Mugabe resigned; ten days after the coup, Mnangagwa was sworn in as president.
Since then, Mugabe’s health has been declining and he was admitted for medical treatment in Singapore three months ago. His body has been brought back to Zimbabwe for burial. Grace Mugabe has broken protocol and insisted that her husband be buried in Heroes’ Acre, the national shrine in the country’s capital of Harare. Mugabe’s burial has been delayed 30 days while a mausoleum is built for him at Heroes’ Acre. The memorial for Mugabe was held in a large sports stadium that was mostly empty, with citizens citing that “work kept them away.” Other individuals were willing to speak more candidly, albeit anonymously, saying “We are happier now that he is gone. Why should I go to his funeral? I don’t have fuel… We don’t want to hear anything about him anymore. He is the cause of our problems.”
The news coverage of this memorial is telling of who were Mugabe’s friends and foes. Ugandan newspapers speak derisively of Mugabe and his wife Grace, while Chinese news sources claim Mugabe was an African hero and a man with an impressive moral compass. In the last 40 years, China has invested heavily in its interests in Africa. There are over 10,000 Chinese-owned firms currently operating in Africa, and, in 2015, China accounted for the largest share of foreign direct investment into Zimbabwe at 74%. China is also the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco and has added Zimbabwe to its official list of approved tourist destinations. However, unlike the colonialists of the 20th century, the Chinese do not invest any of their profits into Africa or its infrastructure, and thus African communities are struggling. This Chinese investment has been influenced and encouraged by leaders like Mugabe, and as Zimbabwe moves forward, its political leadership will be crucial in either encouraging or discouraging this Chinese involvement.