Africa

Zimbabwe profile - Leaders

  • 26 September 2013
  • From the section Africa
Zimbabwean President Mugabe
President Mugabe has ruled for more than three decades

President: Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe for the three decades of its independence.

He was a key figure in the struggle for independence, which involved a bitter bush war against a white minority which had cut the country loose from the colonial power Britain.

When he was first elected in 1980 he was praised for reaching out to the white minority and his political rivals, as well as for what was considered a pragmatic approach to the economy.

However, he soon expelled from his government of national unity the party whose stronghold was in the south of the country and launched an anti-opposition campaign in which thousands died.

In the mid-1990s he embarked on a programme of land redistribution, in which commercial farmers were driven off the land by mobs. The programme was accompanied by a steady decline in the economy.

As the opposition to his rule increased, he and his ruling Zanu-PF party grew more determined to stay in power. Critics accuse him of heading a military regime.

In the elections of 2008, Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr Mugabe in the presidential vote but with insufficient votes to avoid a run-off.

Mr Mugabe was sworn in for another term in June 2008 after a widely-condemned run-off vote from which Mr Tsvangirai withdrew because of attacks on his supporters.

Under international pressure, Mr Mugabe agreed a power-sharing deal with Mr Tsvangirai, who was made prime minister.

However, Mr Mugabe made no secret of his distaste for the arrangement and Mr Tsvangirai complained of a lack of co-operation and a return of violence against his party's supporters.

After years of wrangling, the two parties in early 2013 agreed on a new constitution, which was overwhelmingly approved at a referendum in March.

It curbs the president's powers, sets a two-term limit for the office, abolishes the post of prime minister, creates elected provincial legislatures and establishes a constitutional court.

Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai competed for the presidency in elections in July 2013. Mr Mugabe officially gained 61% of the vote against 34% for Mr Tsvangirai and in August was sworn in for a seventh term in office. His Zanu-PF party clinched a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary vote. Mr Tsvangirai dismissed the polls as fraudulent.

Ideologically, Mr Mugabe belongs to the African liberationist tradition of the 1960s - strong and ruthless leadership, anti-Western, suspicious of capitalism and deeply intolerant of dissent and opposition.

Opposition leader: Morgan Tsvangirai

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has long been President Mugabe's only credible challenger, but appears to have been outmanoeuvred by his rival

Morgan Tsvangirai's defeat in the July 2013 elections was a major setback for a man who for many years posed the only credible challenge to President Mugabe.

He served as prime minister from February 2009 until the post was officially abolished in September 2013 under the terms of the new constitution approved in March.

His appointment to the premiership was part of a power-sharing deal reached under international pressure following the disputed 2008 elections.

The coalition made up of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was always a shaky affair, and Mr Mugabe lost no time in ditching the power-sharing arrangement after Zanu-PF's sweeping election victory in 2013.

Mr Tsvangirai is a former union leader who helped found the MDC in 1999.

As MDC leader he has faced intimidation, treason charges, physical assault and at one stage was charged with plotting to kill Mr Mugabe.

The son of a bricklayer, Mr Tsvangirai worked as a miner for a number of years, before climbing to the top of the country's trade union movement.

He first took on the government when, as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, he led a series of strikes against high taxes in the late 1990s.

Mr Tsvangirai once declared that his strategy to unseat Mr Mugabe was to wait until the president mismanaged the economy to such an extent that he was forced out of office.

This long-term approach may have helped to prevent the split in Zimbabwean society from developing into civil war, but Mr Mugabe's grip on power shows no sign of loosening and even some of Mr Tsvangirai's supporters now suggest that he has been outmanoeuvred by the president and his allies.

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