Mugabe as a benevolent dictator: 2008-2017

By Tatenda Freeman Murenjekwa

This article seeks to reveal the good and the bad side of Mugabe’s rule from 2008 to 2017 though the late nonagenarian ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years.

His tenure of office was cut short by a military coup of November 2017. During his tenure of office, Mugabe managed to use his diplomacy to settle down the political, social and economic woes bedeviling the country leading to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in 2009. He was also able to sanction and control price hikes although the economy continued to decline.

This paper is also going to showcase the bad side of Mugabe; that is his use of the Machiavellian philosophy to prolong his stay in power. He was accused of vote-rigging and his contribution towards economic instability which was accelerated by his cold war politics cannot be taken for granted. Mugabe’s ‘Look East Policy’ also affected Zimbabwe’s economic growth. Current President Emmerson Mnangagwa is trying to move away from Mugabe’s approach by calling for the re-engagement policy in an endeavor to kick-start the economy. The writer, however, argues that Mugabe did more harm than good in as far as improving the political, social and economic status of Zimbabwe is concerned. However, when juxtaposed with Mnangagwa, it can be argued that Mugabe was better.


Mugabe used diplomacy in resolving political and economic crisis affecting the Zimbabwean community. In 2008, Zimbabwe was plunged into a political crisis emanating from the disputed elections which Mugabe was alleged to have vote rigged. In an attempt to calm the tense political sphere, a union of convenience was facilitated by the SADC-sent mediator Thabo Mbeki. Mugabe agreed to have talks with the winner of the elections; Morgan Richard Tsvangirai for the sake of political, social and economic relief. In 2009, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and other lesser players signed the Government of National Unity. The period post-2009 improved in terms of the political, social and economic situation in Zimbabwe. Mugabe refused to let go crucial ministries in order to further prolong his stay in power. Tsvangirai was mandated to drive the economy in an endeavor to lure support from European countries. During this period, the multi-currency system was implemented by the then Finance Minister Tendai Biti proved to have the solutions to the country’s economic woes.

Mugabe proved to be a capable leader in the sense that he was able to sanction economic saboteurs and contain price hikes. On the other hand, Mnangagwa is too soft to contain price hikes and he is failing to ease the political, social and economic crisis affecting Zimbabweans. Most if not all Zimbabweans have lost confidence in Zanu PF’s so-called austerity measures as fuel queues, price hikes, poor water and electricity supplies persisted. Some Zimbabweans regard Mnangagwa and Mugabe as ‘Siamese Twins’ in their rulership. Over and above, Mugabe was a diplomat. Despite his shortcomings, Mugabe could stand his ground and use diplomatic means to coerce economic saboteurs to minimize unjustified price hikes.


Mugabe used repressive state apparatus in the name of police, army and the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) to deal with opposition. Opposition members and supporters suffered a lot of atrocities in the hands of Mugabe. According to Jocelyn Alexander and Blessing-Miles Tendi, Zanu PF used the CIO, police and army to intimidate opposition members and their sympathisers. In retrospect, when Edgar Tekere formed the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in 1989, he was the first party to pose a real challenge to Mugabe who hoped to run unchallenged and establish a one party state. Violence against the opposition during the 1990 elections culminated into the shooting of Kombayi who dared to challenge late  former Vice President Simon Muzenda in Midlands’s city of Gweru. The use of violence towards opposition party members and their subordinates became part and parcel of Zanu PF’s strategies to contain opposition.

Apart from Mugabe’s positive achievements during his tenure of office, Mugabe brutalized opposition party members and supporters. Many were left homeless, orphaned and crippled before and aftermath the election period. According to Blair (2002), Mugabe was a quintessential purveyor of power politics. Bratton (2014), also notes that Mugabe’s path to the apex of state power, by bullet as well as ballot, shapes the way he has subsequently governed. However Mnangagwa cannot be exonerated from Mugabe’s use of Machiavellian philosophy to safeguard his hold on power. Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s right hand man. Mnangagwa tried to portray himself as a renewed person who diverted from his predecessor’s path but Zanu PF will always be Zanu PF as shown by the August 1 shooting incident.


Comparing Mugabe to Mnangagwa, one can say Mnangagwa managed to divert from his Godfather’s footsteps by looking at the way he championed democratic space and his re-engagement strategies. Zimbabweans from all walks of life however have a nostalgic feeling in the sense that under Mnangagwa’s reign they are suffering and living below the poverty datum line. According to Southall, there is much in the transition from Mugabe to Mnangagwa to suggest continuity rather than change. Southall (2017) notes that Mnangagwa’s cabinet was designed to establish his authority within Zanu PF, build bridges to potential opponents and re-assert the ruling party’s alliance with the military. As such it came as a major disappointment to the mass of Zimbabwe’s who had been hoping against the odds, that Mnangagwa would separate the wheat from the chaff. According to Thorncroft (2017), the response of opposition forces to the new government was voiced by Tendai Biti who denounced it as both ‘betrayal of Zimbabwe’ and a ‘military junta’. Magaisa argues that Zimbabweans are disheartened by the apparent failure of the Mnangagwa regime to arrest the deteriorating economic situation. To him, after Mugabe, the only way was up or so it seemed but the regime looks and sounds clueless with each passing day. Mnangagwa has so far proved to be a failure in resolving the economic woes which he and his predecessor created. Innocent Gonese, the chief whip of the main MDC said “Robert Mugabe was no good, he was cruel and heartless and in spite of his array of degrees his appreciation of the law of economics was zilch. I never thought that he could get someone worse than him. “While others are of the opinion that Mnangagwa proved to be a failure, his followers are arguing that Mnangagwa has to be given time to resolve the economy. Their argument being that there is time to plant and time to harvest therefore they promise Zimbabweans that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As cited in the Bulawayo 24 news, Trump said Zimbabweans lived under better conditions during former Mugabe’s tenure of office than they are doing under Mnangagwa.

Tatenda Freeman Murenjekwa is a holder of a Bachelor of Arts honors Degree in History and he writes articles for educational purposes. The views expressed here are his, and do not in any way reflect the position of TellZim News.


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