He is now aged 90, and one of Africa’s most divisive leaders, but Robert Mugabe has just been elected as the new chairman of the African Union.
He is championed by some, but others say the choice of Zimbabwe’s President will cast a shadow over the organisation’s relations with the West.
Mugabe has been a controversial figure on the world stage, accused of clinging onto power at any cost and stifling opposition.
He has been leader of his country since 1987, winning election after election despite criticism of his economic leadership.
Zimbabwe has had only one other leader, Canaan Banana, since gaining independence from Britain in 1980. A lot of Mugabe’s support is among people who see him as having stood up to the country’s former colonial power.
The EU and the US imposed sanctions against Mugabe after elections in 2002 and 2008 that were seen as being unfair.
Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the MDC, has also long accused Mugabe of intimidation and of having ruined the economy.
Obert Gutu, a spokesman for the MDC, told the Reuters news agency: “He lacks the political legitimacy to lead an Africa that should be looking to consolidate democracy and good governance.”
The role as head of the African Union is largely ceremonial, but it is hugely symbolic in terms of representing member states on the international scene.
The choice of Mugabe was made at a summit in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
“Zimbabwe is an important member state, a very committed country,” said the Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra on the sidelines of the summit.
In his acceptance speech, Zimbabwe’s leader returned to a familiar theme.
“African resources should belong to Africa and no one else, except to those we invite as friends,” he said. “Friends we shall have, yes, but imperialists and colonialists no more.”
Mugabe caused turmoil in his country more than a decade ago with a radical policy of returning farms from white owners to black Zimbabweans.
Amid violence and tension, many white farmers left the country, resulting in falling production and economic hardship.
Mugabe has always dismissed the local and international criticism, denying that he is guilty of any wrongdoing.
By appointing Mugabe as Chairman, with his travel ban to the EU, the African Union is effectively saying it doesn't care much for Brussels.— Ben Judah (@b_judah) January 30, 2015
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