Since the 11th century, present-day Zimbabwe has been the site of several organised states and kingdoms as well as a major route for migration and trade. The British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes first demarcated the present territory during the 1890s; it became the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. In 1965, the conservative white minority government unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia. The state endured international isolation and a 15-year guerrilla war with black nationalist forces; this culminated in a peace agreement that established universal enfranchisement and de jure sovereignty in April 1980. Zimbabwe then rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations—which it withdrew from in 2003. It is a member of the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980, when his ZANU-PF party won the elections following the end of white minority rule; he has been the president of Zimbabwe since 1987. Under Mugabe’s authoritarian regime, the state security apparatus has dominated the country and been responsible for widespread human rights violations. Mugabe has maintained the revolutionary socialist rhetoric from the Cold War era, blaming Zimbabwe’s economic woes on conspiring Western capitalist countries. Burnished by his anti-imperialist credentials, contemporary African political leaders have been reluctant to criticise Mugabe, though Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called him “a cartoon figure of an archetypal African dictator.”