Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president, agreed to step down on Tuesday, according to the speaker of parliament.
The announcement comes a little less than a week after the country’s military seized power, setting the course to end the 37-year rule of the world’s oldest serving president.
Impeachment proceedings against Mugabe had already begun early Tuesday, but the speaker of parliament read a letter to lawmakers later that day that he said came from the president and offered a formal resignation.
“I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, hereby formally tender my resignation,” the speaker said, reading from what he said was Mugabe’s letter.
Mugabe has yet to appear or speak publicly since the letter was read, and it marks a reversal from a long-winded speech he gave on Sunday when he refused to address his resignation. Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party had fired Mugabe as its leader earlier that day and expelled his politically powerful wife, Grace, from the party.
Once a celebrated freedom-fighter, Mugabe has been accused of orchestrating human rights abuses against impoverished black Zimbabweans, white farmers and thousands of LGBTQ people while amassing vast wealth as the nation spiraled into poverty.
Mugabe’s resignation is the culmination of a military action that began last week, when Zimbabwe’s armed forces seized control of state television, surrounded government buildings and detained the president in his home on Wednesday.
Military officials denied at the time that they were attempting to depose the 93-year-old president, arguing that they were only targeting “criminals” around him. But as time went on and Mugabe kept remained silent, it became increasingly clear the leader’s days in power were numbered.
After a tense day of uncertainty surrounding Mugabe’s fate, Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper released photos on Thursday purporting to show negotiations between military officials and the president.
Although the discussions were still reportedly underway on Friday, Mugabe made his first public appearance since the military seized control, attending a graduation ceremony for Zimbabwe Open University.
Mugabe has governed Zimbabwe since 1980, when he helped the country gain independence after a long struggle against colonial rule. Throughout his presidency, the strongman held on to power through crackdowns on opposition and dissent. Even as Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in the past decade and the regime drew harsh international condemnation, Mugabe found ways to remain in control.
In recent years, Mugabe’s advanced age and mental lapses grew increasingly apparent. He often slept through public events, had been oblivious while delivering the wrong speech to Parliament and seemed unfit for even basic ceremonial duties.
The current crisis began when Mugabe fired his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Nov. 6, a move widely seen as a means to consolidate power within the president’s family and potentially clear the way for his wife to become his successor. However, a military general issued a statement on Nov. 13, threatening to step in if Mugabe failed to halt the purges. The army ultimately took action late the following night.
The U.S. State Department’s top official for Africa told Reuters on Thursday that the country was seeking “a new era” and encouraged Mugabe to step aside.
“It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Donald Yamamoto, acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the outlet.