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Robert Mugabe, the controversial president of Zimbabwe who was forced to resign in 2017 after decades in power, has died at age 95.
Mugabe’s death was confirmed Friday on Twitter by Emmerson Mnangawa, who succeeded Mugabe as leader of the East African nation.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” Mnangawa wrote on Twitter. “Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”
Mnangagwa’s statement did not provide details of Mugabe’s death.
Family members also confirmed the death to the BBC, that news agency reported.
Reuters reported that Mugabe died in Singapore, where he had previously undergone medical treatment in recent years. In November, Mnangagwa said Mugabe was no longer able to walk when he was in Singapore for medical care — but Mnangagwa did not specify why Mugabe was being treated, according to Reuters. Officials often said publicly that Mugabe was treated for a cataract, and denied reports that he had prostate cancer, the report said.
Mugabe took power in Zimbabwe after white minority rule ended in 1980. He blamed Zimbabwe’s economic problems on international sanctions and once said he wanted to rule for life. But growing discontent about the southern African country’s fractured leadership and other problems prompted a military intervention, impeachment proceedings by the parliament and large street demonstrations for his removal.
The announcement of Mugabe’s Nov. 21, 2017 resignation after he initially ignored escalating calls to quit triggered wild celebrations in the streets of the capital, Harare. Well into the night, cars honked and people danced and sang in a spectacle of free expression that would have been impossible during his years in power and reflected hopes for a better future.
Zimbabwe’s former president Robert Mugabe looks on during a press conference at his private residence nicknamed “Blue Roof” in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 29, 2018. (Reuters)
Mugabe’s decline in his last years as president was partly linked to the political ambitions of his wife, Grace, a brash, divisive figure whose ruling party faction eventually lost out in a power struggle with supporters of Mnangagwa, who was close to the military.
Despite Zimbabwe’s decline during his rule, Mugabe remained defiant, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources, a populist message that was often a hit even as many nations on the continent shed the strongman model and moved toward democracy.
Mugabe enjoyed acceptance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors. Toward the end of his rule, he served as rotating chairman of the 54-nation African Union and the 15-nation Southern African Development Community; his criticism of the International Criminal Court was welcomed by regional leaders who also thought it was being unfairly used to target Africans.
Mugabe was born in Zvimba, 40 miles west of the capital of Harare. As a child, he tended his grandfather’s cattle and goats, fished for bream in muddy water holes, played football and “boxed a lot,” as he recalled later.
Mugabe lacked the easy charisma of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader and contemporary who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after reconciling with its former white rulers. But he drew admirers in some quarters for taking a hard line with the West, and he could be disarming despite his sometimes harsh demeanor.
“The gift of politicians is never to stop speaking until the people say, ‘Ah, we are tired,'” he said at a 2015 news conference. “You are now tired. I say thank you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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