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After 37 Years in Power, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Is Stepping Down

It certainly didn’t happen overnight. After 37 years in power, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has officially resigned, AP reports

In the streets, thousands celebrated. 

“I can’t believe he’s gone. I am so happy,” one woman told Channel 4 News. 

Mugabe announced his resignation in a letter delivered to Zimbabwe’s Parliament speaker, Jacob Mudenda, CNN reports.  

"I have resigned to allow smooth transfer of power," he wrote. "Kindly give public notice of my decision as soon as possible."

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Mugabe’s 37 years of rule were categorized by nearly four decades of stagnant economic growth and rampant corruption

Initially hailed as an independence leader in the vein of South African President Nelson Mandela, Mugabe’s tenure quickly changed course, trending toward despotism, economic mismanagement, and coercive leadership. 

Mugabe gained power in 1980, emerging victorious from the seven-year Rhodesian Bush War and becoming the country’s first black independence leader, according to Reuters. After 10 years as prime minister, he was elected Zimbabwe’s first president — a role he held until today. 

The leader inherited one of the most unequal countries in Africa. 

In the first 10 years of his rule, Zimbabwe doubled per capita investment in healthcare and tripled investment in education, according to the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies. This led to a decrease in the infant mortality rate, as well as sharp rises in literacy and immunization rates, People’s World reports.  

The wave of social investments was made possible by a strong agricultural economy

Read More: Zimbabwe Upheaval: Soldiers, Tanks Fill Streets Amid Military Takeover of Mugabe’s Control

But the leader’s early years were marred by grave human rights violations against the Ndebele minority — of whom about 20,000 people were killed, and some discovered in mass graves. 

In the early 2000s, Mugabe began to seize farms and agriculture owned by the country’s white minority and dole out land to his supporters, which led to a major contraction of the economy. By the late 2000s, unemployment had skyrocketed to over 80%

Although Mugabe entered into a power-sharing agreement in 2008, the leader continued to consolidate his rule — elevating his wife, Grace, first to the position of head of the ZANU-PF Women's League, and later, one week ago, to vice president. 

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According to the Los Angeles Times, it was this final appointment that ultimately led to the leader’s demise. 

On Nov. 15, Mugabe was placed under house arrest, as the military took control of the country. 

Read More: Why Zimbabwe's President Was Relieved of His WHO Appointment After Less Than 1 Week

For Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s resignation was reason for celebration — even as uncertainty looms for the country going forward. 

"We think that this is the work of God," one man told CNN. "We were in crisis for a long time, and this is a new day for Zimbabweans."

In Zimbabwe, more than 20% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank, and the country’s healthcare system has seen an “unprecedented deterioration of health care infrastructure, loss of experienced health sector personnel, and a drastic decline in the quality of health services available for the population.” 

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which include goal 16: peace, justice, and strong institutions — which were tenuous in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. You can take action on this issue here

In the wake of Mugabe’s resignation, it is unclear who will fill the country’s leadership gap. Many expect former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa — known as “The Crocodile” and formerly Mugabe’s right-hand man — to seize control in the interim, leading to speculation that human rights in the country could further deteriorate