PHILIMON BULAWAYO / REUTERS No country for old man: Mugabe and his wife, November 2017.

Mugabe’s Misrule

And How It Will Hold Zimbabwe Back

In a radio broadcast that Robert Mugabe made from exile in 1976, during the guerrilla war he was leading to overthrow white-minority rule in Rhodesia, he set out his views about the kind of electoral democracy he intended to establish once he had gained control of Zimbabwe, as the new state was to be named. “Our votes must go together with our guns,” he said. “After all, any vote we shall have shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer—its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins.”

As Zimbabwe’s leader for 37 years, Mugabe never deviated from this attachment to brute force. Whatever challenge his regime faced, he was always prepared to overcome it by resorting to the gun. So proud was he of his record that he once boasted that in addition to his seven university degrees, he had acquired “many degrees in violence.”

What propelled Mugabe to use violence so readily was his obsession with power. Power for Mugabe was not a means to an end but the end itself. His overriding ambition was to gain total control, and he pursued that objective with relentless single-mindedness, crushing opponents and critics who stood in his way, sanctioning murder, torture, and lawlessness of every kind. “I will never, never, never, never surrender,” he said after unleashing a campaign of terror to win an election held in 2008. “Zimbabwe is mine.”

To sustain himself in power, Mugabe came to rely on a cabal of army generals, police chiefs, senior civil servants, and political cronies willing to do his bidding. In return, he gave them license to amass huge personal wealth, derived mainly from bribes and the looting of state assets. As the bedrock of the Mugabe state, they became accustomed to using methods of violence and intimidation as a matter of routine, able to act with impunity.

Ensconced in the presidential residence

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