Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, becoming the world's oldest autocrat. Among world leaders, only Israeli President Shimon Peres is older.
Mugabe began his three decades in power as a hero of Zimbabwe's independence movement. With echoes of Nelson Mandela's story, the former political prisoner initially called for reconciliation after overthrowing white minority rule.
But Mugabe's leadership took a brutal turn in the 1980s, with the mass killing of his political opponents. In the last two decades, his land redistribution program decimated his country's economy and unleashed widespread violence. Accused of rigging elections, forced displacements and terrorizing civilians with ruthless control, Mugabe metamorphosed from a national hero to an international pariah.
The aging leader, who denies widely rumored health problems, once said that he would rule until he turns 100. Mugabe has become synonymous with his eccentricity, lavish lifestyle and increasingly bizarre quips, but in this case, he appears not to be joking. The longtime dictator won a new five-year-term in 2013 and under a new constitution can remain president until he is 99, according to Agence France-Presse.
Today, on Mugabe's birthday, The WorldPost looks back at the 90 turbulent years of a now-tyrannical leader.
Robert Mugabe, then a guerrilla leader prior to Zimbabwean independence, is pictured on March 8, 1978 at the United Nations. (AFP/Getty Images)
In 1980, Zimbabwe held its first independent elections. Here, guerrillas loyal to Robert Mugabe lay down their arms, under the watchful eye of a British Monitoring Force soldier, before entering the mobile polling station limits to vote, March 1, 1980 at Foxtrot Assembly Camp in Zimbabwe.
(AP Photo/Louise Gubb)
Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe's first post-independence Prime Minister, a position he held until assuming the presidency in 1987.
In this March 4, 1980 photo, he raises his fists in triumph at a press conference following his landslide election victory. He then called for reconciliation in Zimbabwe.
(ALLEN PIZZEY/AFP/Getty Images)
His call for reconciliation was welcomed by western countries. On August 27, 1980, Mugabe met U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office in Washington D.C.
(AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
From his first years in power, Mugabe's rule was marked by brutal repression of opponents.
Here, soldiers of Zimbabwe's North Korean-trained "Gukurahundi" the Crack Force brigade, salute Mugabe at Independence Day celebrations in Salisbury, Zimbabwe April 18, 1982.
The banner overhead reads, "Let Us Lay down Our Lives for Cde. R.G. Mugabe."
With the economy failing, Mugabe intensified his land reform program by authorizing redistribution of white-owned land. Some veterans of Zimbabwe's independence war begin staging land invasions.
Here, a farm manager's wife and daughters are blocked from leaving their house by war veterans in Centenary district, March 29, 2000.
(AP Photo/Rob Cooper)
In 2008, hyperinflation in Zimbabwe skyrocketed, with prices doubling every 24.7 hours, according to a Forbes estimate
This Dec. 19, 2008 file photo shows a newly released ten billion Zimbabwean dollar bill in Harare.
After his party lost a parliamentary majority, Mugabe was accused of leading a campaign of intimidation of terror and violence against his political opponents in the 2008 presidential vote.
Here, Mugabe greets his supporters at a final campaign rally in Harare on June 26, 2008.(ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)
In the aftermath of widespread violence, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed a unity government in an effort to stay the crisis.
In this photo, Tsvangirai (L) is sworn in as prime minister at the State House in Harare on Febuaury 11, 2009 by President Robert Mugabe.
(DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images)
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe speaks to delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference on December 16, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
In 2013, Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe won a seventh term in office, amid allegations of electoral fraud
Here Mugabe (C) inspects the guard of honor during the commemoration of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, shortly after his reelection, on August 13, 2013 in Harare. (JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)