FT Weekend editor and southern Africa expert Alec Russell looks at the motivations and actions of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's ageing dictator, who took control of the country 37 years ago and has finally stepped down.
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Produced and edited by Josh de la Mare.
I met Mugabe first just over 20 years ago. And even then he was under considerable pressure from the outside world and from opponents within Zimbabwe to open up, to allow an opposition to function, and to be less repressive and to manage the economy well. But he brushed aside these critiques with utter, utter confidence. I remember talking to him about democracy. I mean he just said, ah, democracy. Of course, of course democracy is a good thing. Yes, yes. We should have democracy.
Can human beings remain human beings if they do worse than pigs?
But the point is that he is used to being utterly in control, and he's long since lost confidence in any of the people around him, and doesn't really believe the people who come to him and say he's lost the support of the people. So one of the big questions that's always been asked of Mugabe, or certainly in the last 20 years, is what turned him?
And the question is based on the following premise, the sort of idea that somehow in the first part of his rule that started in 1980, that he was broadly an OK leader, presided over a relatively successful economy, et cetera, et cetera. And then in the mid to late 90s, it all went horribly wrong. He became repressive and so on. And this theory basically says that in 1996 he married his secretary, his former secretary, Grace Mugabe. She was moneygrubbing and turned him, whereas previously he was married to a Ghanian teacher who was very sensible and so on.
But I think that's a rather quaint psychological theory. The fact is that he's always been of a dictatorial bent. In the 1980s, soon after he took over, his forces ruthlessly repressed an opposition movement, killed thousands of people in Matubiniland. It's just in many of the subsequent years he didn't need to be dictatorial, but he's always been the same man so I don't we should try to be too cutesy in how we assess his rule. It wasn't in two halves.