Since the 1990s, Mugabe's popularity has waned owing to economic decline, political instability, the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and his reluctance to face the HIV/AIDS crisis afflicting the nation. In the past Mugabe was considered a man of high integrity and moderation, but given recent events his judgement has been called into question. Corruption among the rank-and-file ZANU officials has become a serious political liability.
Mugabe has proved Machiavellian in his quest for and control over power. During the 1980s, Mugabe's political power expanded dramatically. His party increased its number of seats in the House of Assembly by six in June 1985, the first elections following independence. ZANU, however, was unable to secure any seats in Matabeleland, the traditional stronghold of Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU. Mugabe dealt effectively with a serious ethnic rift between the Shona and Ndebele by pulling off a stunning political maneuver that reconciled ZAPU and ZANU. In an agreement signed between Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo in December 1987, the two leaders merged their political parties and Mugabe named Nkomo as vice-president. Furthermore, in September of that year, the 20 seats set aside for the white minority were abolished.
Mugabe's inauguration as executive president, a position that combined the roles of prime minister and ceremonial president, represented the apex of his power. By 1988, however, citizen discontent mounted and Mugabe's nationalistic appeals fell on deaf ears. In the 1990s, Mugabe abandoned his Marxist-Leninist rhetoric for international investment, but the increasingly lawless expropriation of white-held land for distribution to black peasant farmers proved disastrous. ZANU officials hoarded land intended for redistribution, while 'war veterans' too young to have fought in the war occupied white farms. Meanwhile, the spectre of drought, famine, AIDS, and joblessness haunted the nation, leading to speculation that Mugabe's unfortunate legacy may be that of economic ruin and political despotism.