A revised edition of the classic biography of one of Africa’s most polarizing political leaders


On November 21, 2017, Robert Mugabe resigned as President of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power. A week earlier the military had seized control of the country and forced him to step down as leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party. In this revised and updated edition of his classic biography, Stephen Chan seeks to explain and interpret Mugabe in his role as a key player in the politics of Southern Africa. In this masterly portrait of one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, Mugabe’s character unfolds with the ebb and flow of triumph and crisis. Mugabe’s story is Zimbabwe’s—from the post-independence hopes of idealism and reconciliation to electoral victory, the successful intervention in the international politics of Southern Africa, and the resistance to South Africa’s policy of apartheid. But a darker picture emerged early with the savage crushing of the Matabeleland rising, the elimination of political opponents, growing corruption, and disastrous intervention in the Congo war, all worsened by drought and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Chan’s highly revealing biography, based on close personal knowledge of Zimbabwe, depicts the emergence and eventual downfall of a ruthless and single-minded despot amassing and tightly clinging to political power. We follow as the triumphant nationalist leader who reconciled all in the new multiracial Zimbabwe degenerates into a petty tyrant consumed by hubris and self-righteousness and ultimately faces an ignominious endgame at the hands of his own army.

Stephen Chan is Professor of World Politics at SOAS, University of London. He received an OBE in 2010 for services to Africa and Higher Education. He has also received the International Studies Association’s Eminent Scholar in Global Development award.

“In this book, Stephan Chan has wisely avoided portraying Robert Mugabe as the simple ogre so many hold him to be. Without flinching from the wickedness Mugabe practiced and (more so) allowed to be practiced on his behalf, Chan allows a little space to appreciate the absolute dedication Mugabe brought to the idea of Zimbabwe. For all of Mugabe’s faults, there was something admirable about that commitment and dedication. Chan also sees Mugabe’s pathos. From being the scrawny bookworm kid, to being denied permission to attend his first-born’s funeral, to his chronic friendlessness, Robert Mugabe cut a well-dressed but sad and reduced presence. Chan’s focus on Mugabe’s vanity is spot on, as are the descriptions of his ruthlessness, his cluelessness about economics, and his apparent disinterest in the suffering of normal people during the last years of his rule over Zimbabwe.”
—D. Bruce Wharton, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe 2012–2015

". . . a finely argued text that explores one central question: Is Robert Mugabe an African hero fighting to reverse decades of colonial exploitation and the resulting inequality of land distribution? Or is he a modern day African Stalinist, ruthlessly amassing and retaining power with intimidation, savagery, and brutal repression? . . . [T]he fullest account to have been published to date."
African Business, January 2003 

". . . a fine book about what went right and then what went so terribly wrong with Mugabe and his ill-fated country between 1980 and mid-2002, when Zimbabwe lies wide open to famine, disease, pitiful and disgraceful squalor, perhaps even civil war. . . . Chan has written a remarkable book, a fascinating social and political commentary on post-independence Zimbabwe. He has provided a keen insight into what makes a man with unfettered powers tick and here lies the real strength of the book. . . . [A] mini-masterpiece."
—Trevor Grundy, Herald (Glasgow), November 23, 2002  
". . . a full-spectrum picture of Mugabe's realpolitik. It's a portrait so troubling that the reader constantly wonders at Mugabe's sanity while simultaneously marveling at his tactical genius."
—Skye K. Moody, Seattle Times, March 30, 2003