But more than 20 years later, the university withdrew the honour from the Zimbabwean president following pressure from students and campaigners angered by his human rights record.
The decision, taken in 2007, was the first of its kind in the history of the ancient institution.
In this same year, Zimbabwe was in the grip of devastating government-enforced price cuts as inflation spiralled to 20,000 per cent.
Earlier, Mugabe had been praised for broadening access to education for the black majority and it was on this note that Edinburgh University awarded him the honour.
"The removal of this honorary degree shows the people of Zimbabwe that we recognise their struggle," Edinburgh University rector Mark Ballard said at the time.
"Mr. Mugabe will no longer be able to claim recognition from our prestigious university," he added.
The University of Massachusetts and Michigan State University soon followed Edinburgh's example and in 2008, Mugabe was annulled by the Queen over his honorary knighthood which was given to him in 1994.