Robert Mugabe, a schoolteacher-turned-guerrilla fighter who helped topple white colonial rule in Zimbabwe only to lead the country to the brink of economic ruin, has died.

Mr. Mugabe died after years of declining health that saw him make frequent trips for medical treatment in Asia and less than two years after a bloodless coup ended his 37-year rule over the southern African country. He was 95 years old.

“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe,” his successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, said in a message from his official Twitter account Friday morning. “Cde Mugabe was an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people. His contribution to the history of our nation will never be forgotten.”

Saviour Kasukuwere, a former minister under Mr. Mugabe and confidante of his family, said the former president died at a hospital in Singapore where he had been receiving medical treatment since April.

Mr. Mugabe’s topsy-turvy rule became the narrative of Zimbabwe’s independence story. In 1980, he was elected prime minister of the newly independent nation and initially went to great lengths to cultivate goodwill among white people. He would frequently invite Ian Smith, the erstwhile leader of the white-minority government that ran Rhodesia, to tea. The former colony had detached itself from the British Empire 15 years earlier, but many white settlers retained deep ties to Britain.

When his Zanu-PF party lost control of Parliament in 2000, in part because white farmers had swung their support behind a rival, Mr. Mugabe felt betrayed. In keeping with a pattern that would define his long political career, he moved to neutralize his opponents, giving the green light for veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war to invade white-owned farms.

An expanded version of this story is available at WSJ.com

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2019-09-06