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on 16 January 2010
Meredith has produced another excellent book on Africa and if you want to investigate why that continent has had such a troubled time since the ending of European colonisation then you need look no further. Here Zimbabwe, or more accurately it's infamous leader Robert Mugabe is put under the spotlight and the tale is a sorry one indeed.

In a highly readable way Meredith brings us through Mugabe's early years and influences and explains the divisions that were present in the freedom movement.The scene of Smith declaring UDI and the international political response is well set without going overboard on details. The desperate decline from Mugabe's accession to office in 1980 to his paranoia and the way he and his followers stooped to any means to hold onto power makes for very sad reading. I found it particularly interesting to see how long the judiciary tried to oppose his policies (presidential decrees were constantly used to ignore their censures) but how the police were almost totally complicit with almost all forms of law - breaking.

Chapter by chapter the story unfolds about the increasing targeting of white farmers and of black political opponents and while it doesn't make for happy reading and doesn't as yet have a happy ending one can only hope that the apparent present power-sharing is easing the lot of the Zimbabwean people.This is a very informative study of one of the world's most ruthless rulers. (NOTE : this review refers to the 2002 edition of "Power and Plunder")
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on 17 July 2009
This book is a detailed chronicle of Mr. Mugabe. From his early childhood, where his father's desertion and the death of his child seemed to have had a profound effect on him right up until his preparations for the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections.

All the critical events in the life of Mugabe are covered:
- His Jesuit education and his beginnings as a radical rebel, influenced by Marxism.
- His imprisonment and his attainment of various educational degrees
- The surprising brief period of hope and stability when he first took power in 1980.
- The mass exodus of Zimbabweans throughout his rule.
- His links with North Korea and the creation of the 5 Brigade (the Gukurahundi)
- His instigation of a new elite, his political henchmen and his deals with war vets.
- His castigating of former colonial powers, the entire western world and rampaging of white farmers culminating in the third chimurenga.
- His pyschotic and systematic bull dosing of people out of their own homes (Operation Muramatsvine)

What's clear from this book is that Zimbabwe was never really a stable democracy. It was an apartheid styled state which created many Mugabe's. Then almost immediately as Mugabe's Zanu-PF took control, the media and populace at large where intimidated, cowed and eventually beaten by a state that had no shame committing all sorts of human rights abuses.

There are some interesting post - colonial points. Even though one can make all the proverbial critisms of the colonialists, Mugabe should have worked with them. For example he should have kept them on their farms while the country worked through much needed reform (even several African leaders were advising he should do this). But, Mugabe's priorities were perverse and only based on keeping his power which meant he instead castigated the whites at any opportunity, blaming them for every single one of Zimbabwe's problems in an effort to deflect any criticism aimed at him. And of course, anyone who disagreed was in cahoots with the nasty post-colonials and hence a traitor.

Every page has a plethora of facts - almost too much. If you don't know too much about Zimbabwe, it's quite easy to get confused. I found myself
cross-checking with Google and wikipedia several times. In fact one of book's major shortcoming is that, despite the author's obvious erudite and sapient knowledge of Zimbabwe there are no references for all the facts. Surprising.

In addition, beyond all the information, there isn't much critical insight, value add or arguments from the author. Some of it is very interesting, particularly South African coverts operations to destabilise the Zanu-PF government but it would be nice if the book had some arguments that weren't obvious or even if it posed some thought provoking questions particular in the role of Western World in relation to Zimbabwe.

My only other criticism as most people wouldn't be au fait with Zimbabwe's democracy (if you could call it that) I think clearer distinctions should have been made between the various types of elections (again if you could call them that) in Zimbabwe, namely: parliamentary, senate, presidential elections and of course the referendums. The crucial points of course pertaining to Zimbabwean elections are Mugabe's rigging of elections, his intimidation of voters and political opponents, but it would help to put things in perspective if the book explained what way Zimbabwe's democracy is supposed to work and not just that it was been subverting by a lunatic. I think this would aid the reader's understanding of Zimbabwe, particular the times when elections have been close to each other for example, in the year 2000 when Mugabe lost a referendum but won parliamentary elections the same year.
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on 8 March 2002
I have no connection to Zimbabwe, just a tourist who visited in the early 90s so had no particular bias pre-knowledge. I was looking forward to reading an informed book about the 'man' himself and gain an understanding of how he became what he is today. The book was interesting, contained selective information but did not give me any real understanding of Mugabe. The book was short-cut could have been much longer and really did not give a 'novice' on Mugabe any real insight into the man or Zimbabwe. Disappointed in the content, but even so the book was interesting and well written.
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on 10 September 2008
Having spent 3 years working in Zimbabwe, and lived through many of the most exciting recent developments, I found this book fascinating and highly informative. I met Mugabe himself during my time there, and Grace Mugabe on another occasion. Everyone spoke of him as having gone off the rails, but Mr Meredith's book demonstrates that Mugabe's recent conduct has been entirely consistent with his methods during the previous two decades - a real eye-opener.
The book is gripping and readable, particularly for one which inevitably is fairly dense with names and facts. I consider it an extremely useful over-view of the topic. The definitive story will only be written when Mugabe has gone, but, as a tool to help us understand history in the making, I think that this would be difficult to surpass.
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on 3 June 2013
Martin Meredith is a very fine writer on African history and politics and has produced a good general account of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Bottom line is that for over 30 years now Mugabe has masqueraded as a liberation hero yet he has been a real tyrant himself for much of this period. If you want to gain some insight into what the Mugabe regime is all about this is a pretty good book to start out with.
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on 11 December 2012
If you live in the English-speaking world, you will recognise Robert Mugabe as the malevolent ogre that has ruined Zimbabwe, a country that was once the 'bread basket' of Africa. Mugabe has presided over a calamitous decline in living standards and has encouraged violence against his real and imagined enemies within Zimbabwe. This, at least, is the caricature of the man painted by the popular press (such as The Economist). Like all caricatures, this portrait reflects many truths, but is malproportioned. I bought Martin Meredith's 'Mugabe' because I wanted a more critical picture of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. I had read Meredith's excellent book 'The State of Africa' and was thoroughly impressed by Meredith's knowledge of post-colonial Africa. Therefore, I expected 'Mugabe' to add nuance to the popular caricature of the man. The book succeeds, but only barely so.

WHO IS ROBERT MUGABE?
Meredith attempts to uncover how a keenly intelligent, ostensibly idealist Marxist Mugabe transformed into the ogre of popular imagination. His answer is simple: Mugabe was never quite a committed Marxist. Mugabe's only goal in leading Zimbabwe's black liberation movement was power. He would do anything, brook no opposition and murder anyone in order to retain power. Nothing surprising here.

Mugabe grew up in racially-stratified colonial Rhodesia. According to Meredith, Mugabe resented the racial assumptions of the colonial caste system: blacks were inferior while whites - no matter their intellectual gifts or character - were considered superior to blacks. Yet, Mugabe grew up fearing, even admiring, 'The White Man' (Meredith's words). He (Mugabe) showed little appetite for politics as a young man, but eventually became caught up in the independence movement of the 1960s. He eventually led his country to independence from white minority rule. After becoming Prime Minister in 1980, Mugabe systematically repressed his enemies (chiefly, the Ndebeles led by Joshua Nkomo). He developed an extensive patronage system that milked the country dry before training his eyes on a visible, privileged minority - the white elite. Meredith chronicles how Mugabe neutered the Zimbabwean judiciary, legislature and other institutions of state in his bid to establish a one party state.

I credit Meredith for highlighting two elements of Zimbabwe's story that are often glossed over in press accounts: (1) The land issue; and (2) Mugabe's reliance on a venal elite coterie.

THE LAND ISSUE: POLITICS, ECONOMICS AND IDENTITY
Land matters greatly in Zimbabwe--and I wager in most parts of the world. Robert Mugabe inherited a poisonous legacy of inequitable land distribution. In the late 1800s, Cecil Rhodes, under the British flag, conquered and systematically dispossessed the Shona and Matabele (the indigenous tribes of Zimbabwe) of their land. The land was subsequently been distributed to white settlers.

Fast forward eighty years. A tiny elite of white farmers controlled the vast majority of the country's most fertile land. Black Zimbabweans, on the other hand, were left in overcrowded marginal lands. The issue goes beyond economics. It does not matter that the white farmers are more economically productive. A grave injustice had been done. Further, land in Zimbabwean society is not simply an economic asset to be exploited, it has profound sociological functions: it is a symbol of identity, status and heritage. Thus, British expropriation of native land is doubly painful: it is the visible expression of the economic and social domination of the former colonial power. This corrosive legacy of racism and colonialism would have tried the most saintly statesman. It was only a matter of time before a cynical, power-hungry Mugabe played the race card in order to divert attention from his mismanagement of the economy.

A VENAL ELITE
No dictator can rule alone. Meredith shows that Mugabe relies on a network of venal elite Zimbabweans to translate his policies into action. These men and women are part of a lucrative patronage system that penetrates the heart of Zimbabwean society. Mugabe may be the figurehead of the system, but it is a system composed of many members who benefit handsomely from Mugabe's misrule. As long as Mugabe placates this elite, it is unlikely that the masses will rise up and overthrow him.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
Meredith's account of Mugabe's rule is superficial: it reads like a serialised newspaper column. It left me asking for more on two levels: (1) how the land issue penetrates the consciousness of Zimbabwean society; and (2) the role of external players and on the factors that shaped Mugabe's character. For instance, what role did the British play in supporting Mugabe? How come despite his mismanagement of the country did he get millions of dollars in loans from the US and Europe? What were the stipulations of the Lancaster house accord? What role did it play in staying Mugabe's hand?

Even though I did not expect Meredith to psychoanalyse Mugabe, I expected more insight into the forces that shaped Mugabe - especially those of the colonial period and the country's history. Perhaps, this shortcoming is understandable; Mugabe is still alive and access to his personal files must be restricted. Nevertheless, I expected Meredith to dig deeper than popular press accounts in order to uncover the hand of history in Zimbabwe.

Regardless of its shortcomings, 'Mugabe' is an enjoyable easy read. (I read the entire book on a Sunday afternoon.) After reading Meredith's 'State of Africa' I had come to expect vivid accounts of the lives of Africa's leaders. In 'Mugabe', Meredith delivers, but not quite as he did in 'The State of Africa'. No one can understand contemporary Africa - especially Southern and Central Africa - without understanding the colonial past. Attempting to analyse an individual as complex as Mugabe without shedding light on history leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I hope Meredith is working on a sequel to 'Mugabe'.
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on 14 August 2008
This is a really detailed introduction to Mugabe. I knew very little about him before I read this book, but the book covers everything from his early days, to consolidation of power, to his actual dictatorship as it is today in very good detail.
The author does not give much analysis, a good 90% of the book is fact, so if it's opinions you're after then this book probably isn't right for you.
The book is very easy to read, and it explains all new terminology, so again that's good if you're new to the subject.
I brought the book to prepare for my uni dissertation, and after reading this I feel more confident than before- highly recommended by me.
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on 23 October 2014
Well written which brings some understanding of the current plight of Zimbabwe
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on 23 September 2003
Matin Meridith gives a good grounding to those wishing to know more about the complexities of the man behind the present situation in Zimbabwe. He breaks it up in to chapters taking us through the life of the President from his life as a School Teacher to the Present Day Autocrat that he has become.
As can be expected the Majority of the Book is devoted to the last 22 years as Mugabe has developed a system of personal rule, carefully using the party and clung on to power in the last couple of years.
I thoroughly recommend this book as it was a great read and a concise report of the man at the centre of this African country.
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on 6 March 2002
This well written, well presented and timely book has reached the market almost simultaneously in the U.K. and the U.S.A. (under different titles) shortly before the key Presidential elections in Zimbabwe. The author appears to have done careful research and reported very contentious topics reasonably fairly. The account is solid but gripping. Reading the book is easier because it is so well presented. Recommended if you have any interest in Zimbabwe.
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