Africa’s postcolonial era produced many tyrants, but few as destructive as Zimbabwe’s
The perverse accomplishment of the dictator, who died Friday at age 95, was to make a thriving country impoverished, corrupt and oppressed.
Mugabe was born in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia and studied in South Africa. He became an enthusiastic Marxist and joined his country’s independence movement in the 1960s. The former schoolteacher turned into a guerrilla commander and served more than a decade in prison. After Zimbabwe became an independent state, he was elected Prime Minister in 1980.
Widely reviled at the end of his life for his many abuses of power, he was feted across the globe earlier in his career by politicians and intellectuals who should have known better. He became a champion of anticolonialism on the left and was even knighted by Britain in 1994. By then the military he controlled had killed thousands of political opponents and civilians.
Today Zimbabwe is a broken land thanks to his authoritarian politics, socialist economics and corruption. His worst economic offense was seizing productive farmland from white owners. The economy collapsed as capital fled and hyperinflation took hold. Mugabe perfected a paranoid style that blamed the outside world. His countrymen saw through the ruse of their Savile Row-suited oppressor and periodically tried to challenge his rule, but he hung on by violently suppressing dissent.
Mugabe died out of power after a 2017 coup saw him deposed by an erstwhile deputy. Yet even the disaffected cronies who ousted him find some value in Mugabe’s old-left rhetorical flights. President
Friday called his former boss “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people.” The left, especially in Africa, picked up the theme.
Other Africans know better, which is why Zimbabweans periodically tried to rebel against Mugabe’s rule and why recently other governments have abandoned socialism. Mugabe’s legacy is a nation in tatters and few mourners among average citizens. His admirers in Africa and the West, including New York Mayor
Bill de Blasio,
might ponder why that is.
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