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Condemnatory biography of the now 84-year-old Zimbabwean dictator who has made news—none good—since 1980 and regularly figures in the headlines today for rigging elections and disappearing opponents.
Greeted as a liberator when his country, formerly Southern Rhodesia, declared independence in 1980, Robert Mugabe quickly embarked on a program of nationalization. Notable among his targets, writes biographer Norman (Arthur Conan Doyle, 2007, etc.), who lived in Southern Rhodesia in the late '50s, were the country's white farmers. "At the beginning of the 1980s, Zimbabwe's economy was booming," Norman writes. Those 6,000 farmers employed 300,000 black workers and produced vast exports, including two million tons of corn per year. Zimbabwe now imports corn and most of its other foodstuffs, and its people routinely suffer famine and malnutrition—even as Mugabe is building a museum honoring his achievements at whose center, Norman notes, will stand "a 16-foot-long stuffed Nile crocodile—a recent birthday present from his loyal ministers and officials." Plenty of dictators, tyrants and tinhorns have behaved poorly throughout world history; Norman suggests that Mugabe stands tall among them, if only because he apparently has no ideology apart from himself. The author charges that Mugabe became a Marxist, for instance, mostly out of convenience, since communism seemed to assure the success of a cult of personality and since communists seemed to rule indefinitely—or, as Mugabe put it, "What appealed to us most over our induction into communism was the firm instruction that: ‘Once you had become the government, you remain in government for ever.' " Mugabe retains power through terror, writesNorman, and with the knowledge that the European Union and the United States will not interfere with his misrule "for fear of being branded imperialist."
Well-written, though doesn't offer much more than any recent edition of, say, the CIA World Factbook—save that Norman's righteous indignation is joined by some truly horrific photographs that provide more evidence of the regime's brutality.