In the year 2000 I took part in a Commonwealth Observer Mission for the Zimbabwean parliamentary elections.
There was no escaping the deep sense of foreboding. It was feared that the country was about to descend into political, social and economic chaos, and the signs were certainly there.
The economy was stagnating with inflation running at around 55 percent, land owned by white commercial farmers was seized for redistribution to the landless, and unemployment was on the rise.
President Mugabe, then concluding his second decade as leader of the nation, had been defeated in a referendum designed to change the constitution to entrench his rule.
He retaliated and in the lead up to the parliamentary election Mugabe coordinated a ruthless campaign of violence and intimidation against his opponents.
There were fears of a repeat of the Matabeleland massacres in the early 1980s when Mugabe unleashed his North Korean trained 5th Brigade to wipe out political dissidents.
Turmoil and turbulence were not new to Zimbabwe.
The recent history of the country had been one of ongoing tension between the African population and the European, mostly British, settlers from the late 1800s.
Backed by superior armed forces the British took control of vast swathes of the rich and potentially productive countryside, dispossessing many tribal people in the process.
Sporadic uprisings occurred against the white rulers who had taken control of the land, known as Rhodesia, led to reforms allowing limited ownership of land by black farmers.
The path to full independence was tumultuous with pro-independence rebel leader Robert Mugabe elected as Prime Minister in 1980.
Part of Mugabe's platform was to resettle black people on farmland, initially supported by the UK government which provided almost $100 million to facilitate the process.
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