This excellent short biography of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe covers his life from Zimbabwe’s independence, in 1980, to his ouster last year in a military coup. Mugabe devoted his entire adult life to politics, first as the ascetic and ruthless leader of a nationalist independence movement, a period during which he spent much time in prison, and then as the triumphant ruler of a new nation. Once in power, he at first surprised observers with his magnanimity toward his erstwhile enemies, leaving the economic power of whites largely untouched. But in the 1990s, when the Zimbabwean economy declined, Mugabe turned to a racially tinged populism; his seizure of white farmers’ land led directly to the collapse of the economy but allowed him to reward his rural base, whose support kept him in power. Onslow and Plaut make clear that Mugabe’s approach to power was always autocratic and repressive, and they sharply note the gap between his Marxist rhetoric and the vast personal riches he amassed and his enormous corruption.
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