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Zimbabwe's Mugabe: From Liberator to Pariah

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Zimbabwe's Mugabe: From Liberator to Pariah

Zimbabwe's Mugabe: From Liberator to Pariah

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now a look back at the record of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. He was hastily sworn in for a sixth term as president yesterday, after a widely condemned run-off election. The opposition boycotted the vote, and the international community condemned it.

Today, Mugabe flew to Egypt for an African Union summit. He's expected to face pressure there from other African leaders who want him to negotiate with his Zimbabwe's opposition.

Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe became independent from Britain in 1980, and he's courted controversy for much of that time. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has this profile.

(Soundbite of military gun salute)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: A military gun salute and the pomp and ceremony of state were all in evidence yesterday for the inauguration of President Robert Mugabe. But the 84-year-old veteran, Africa's oldest leader, showed none of his usual energy and exuberance. Mugabe looked on, smiling and subdued, as he took the oath of office.

President ROBERT MUGABE (Zimbabwe): I will well and truly serve Zimbabwe in the office of president, so help me God.

(Soundbite of Applause)

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Announcer: The Union Jack is lowered. This is the moment. This is the birth of a new country, and there it goes. You can hear the crowd.

QUIST-ARCTON: The lowering of Britain's flag, the Union Jack, marked the end of the colonial British era in Rhodesia. Independent Zimbabwe was born after a liberation war against white minority rule. The highly astute scholar and the political brains behind the independence struggle, Robert Mugabe, was to head the new government. There were high hopes for reconciliation in a new nation.

President MUGABE: Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great moment, the moment of our victory. And our theme is really one of reconciliation, and there is no intention on our part to use the advantage of the majority we have secured to victimize the minority. That will not happen.

QUIST-ARCTON: But after defeat in 2000, in a referendum that Mugabe hoped would entrench his hold on power, he retaliated. His supporters targeted minority white farmers and black farm workers, the backbone of the economy. White farms were often violently occupied.

Mugabe felt he'd been betrayed by whites who backed a new opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. He also blamed the British, who he accused of supporting the opposition.

Journalist author and commentator, Heidi Holland, recently published a book called "Dinner With Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant." Holland has known Mugabe since the early days. She says it's important to understand that his love-hate relationship with Britain and white Zimbabweans, as well as a poor and austere Catholic upbringing, underpin many of Mugabe's much-criticized actions today.

Ms. HEIDI HOLLAND (Author, "Dinner With Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant"): As things started to go wrong, very early on, when the whites of Zimbabwe, former white Rhodesians, voted racially against him five years into his rule, that was the beginning of it. And he couldn't tolerate it.

When he's rejected or humiliated, he reacts with revenge, he gets revenge, and I very much fear that's what he's doing right now. He's getting revenge against his own people in the rural areas because he knows they rejected him in the March election.

QUIST-ARCTON: Holland says especially the former colonial power Britain, the United States, and other hostile Western governments must be careful not to box Mugabe into a corner. She warns that this wounded animal is a dangerous adversary, and a defiant Mugabe could come out blazing, with ordinary Zimbabweans, who've suffered a campaign of terror meted out by Mugabe's security forces and thugs, suffering more violence and oppression. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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