In This Review

Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism
Understanding Zimbabwe: From Liberation to Authoritarianism
By Sara Rich Dorman
Oxford University Press, 2016, 256 pp

In the years immediately following the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, which converted Rhodesia (in which the white minority ruled through repression) into Zimbabwe (in which the black majority gained power through elections), the country was widely considered a success story: it was even referred to as “the breadbasket of Africa.” But in the 1990s, the country descended into a prolonged economic and political crisis that continues to this day, with the dictatorial regime of Robert Mugabe barely clinging to power. Dorman’s excellent history of the postindependence era explains this reversal of fortune by focusing on the increasingly contentious relations between the regime and organized factions within society. Rather than view the Mugabe regime as merely personalistic, Dorman argues that the state progressively ratcheted up its repression as economic failures began to undermine its traditional (and ongoing) strategies of buying off key segments of the population and pacifying others with patriotic appeals that glorified the regime’s anticolonial origins.