A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe

A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe

A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe

A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe


When the southern African country of Rhodesia was reborn as Zimbabwe in 1980, democracy advocates celebrated the defeat of a white supremacist regime and the end of colonial rule. Zimbabwean crowds cheered their new prime minister, freedom fighter Robert Mugabe, with little idea of the misery he would bring them. Under his leadership for the next 30 years, Zimbabwe slid from self-sufficiency into poverty and astronomical inflation. The government once praised for its magnanimity and ethnic tolerance was denounced by leaders like South African Nobel Prize-winner Desmond Tutu. Millions of refugees fled the country. How did the heroic Mugabe become a hated autocrat, and why were so many outside of Zimbabwe blind to his bloody misdeeds for so long?

In A Predictable Tragedy: Robert Mugabe and the Collapse of Zimbabwe Daniel Compagnon reveals that while the conditions and perceptions of Zimbabwe had changed, its leader had not. From the beginning of his political career, Mugabe was a cold tactician with no regard for human rights. Through eyewitness accounts and unflinching analysis, Compagnon describes how Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) built a one-party state under an ideological cloak of antiimperialism. To maintain absolute authority, Mugabe undermined one-time ally Joshua Nkomo, terrorized dissenters, stoked the fires of tribalism, covered up the massacre of thousands in Matabeleland, and siphoned off public money to his minions--all well before the late 1990s, when his attempts at radical land redistribution finally drew negative international attention.

A Predictable Tragedy vividly captures the neopatrimonial and authoritarian nature of Mugabe's rule that shattered Zimbabwe's early promises of democracy and offers lessons critical to understanding Africa's predicament and its prospects for the future.


When the Zimbabwean flag was raised officially in the early hours of 18 April 1980, symbolizing the dawn of a new era and the end of a bitter liberation war, who could have imagined then that the crowds cheering their hero—Robert Mugabe—would come to hate him some thirty years later after he led them to starvation, ruin, and anarchy? Who would have expected Zimbabwe to become the “sick man” of southern Africa, a security concern for its neighbors, and an irritant in the mind of progressive opinion leaders such as former anti-apartheid lead activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner archbishop Desmond Tutu, who would, in 2008, call for Mugabe’s forced removal from power? As we shall see, this disaster should not have come as a complete surprise since there were, from the beginning, many worrying signs of Mugabe’s thirst for power, his recklessness, and his lack of concern for the well-being of his fellow countrymen and women, as well as the greed and brutality of his lieutenants in his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Behind the suffering of Zimbabweans today are a series of political myths forged by the new regime and outsiders who, until recently, supported Mugabe’s government unconditionally. One of the most enduring was the myth of a democratic multiracial Zimbabwe led by an urbane, educated politician—the mirror image of the bloodthirsty guerrilla leader portrayed in the Western press in the 1970s. Everyone marveled how this bright and magnanimous statesman extended political pardons not only to his rivals in the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) but also to former Rhodesian foes. Even the cynical massacre of thousands of civilians in the early 1980s in Matabeleland in western and southwestern Zimbabwe—awareness of which the Zimbabwean government was able to suppress—did not break the charm. Rhodesian . . .

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