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Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa faces old divisions

September 23, 2018

HARARE, Zimbabwe When Emmerson Mnangagwa took the oath of office as president late last month promising “a new dawn” for Zimbabwe, many just laughed.

They said the opportunity for the fresh start they were hoping for after deposing a dictator last year and holding national elections has been squandered.

The divisions were on display again last week as opposition leaders heckled and then walked out when Mr. Mnangagwa tried to deliver his first State of the Nation address, a speech ironically appealing for national unity and moving beyond the animosities dating back to the Robert Mugabe presidency.

“Most of us, the young people, are jobless, and there is nothing new that we can expect from the ZANU-PF,” said Sabina Ndlovu, 23 of Harare, referring to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, which is still in power 38 years after the country won its independence from Britain. “Emmerson Mnangagwa had been Mugabe’s lieutenant all these years, and there is nothing we expect him to do to bring change in our lives.”

In November, Zimbabwe did the once unthinkable and deposed the frail 93-year-old Mr. Mugabe after 37 years in power. Hope surged in Zimbabwe and beyond that one of the world’s poorest and worst-governed countries had finally turned a corner.

Zimbabweans spoke hopefully of jobs, democratic elections with new faces and the chance for a real future.

Instead, they said, they got what many denounce as a rigged vote, protests that were met by a brutal crackdown from government security forces and the same old faces controlling the same old battered economy.

“In the past, Mugabe lost all the legitimacy due to stolen elections,” said Gift Ostallos Sibanda, 25, in Harare. “The 2018 elections presented Zimbabwe with an opportunity to go back to legitimacy, to restore trust between those who govern and those being governed. The rigging of elections takes Zimbabwe backwards.”

Big job ahead

In his Tuesday speech to Parliament, the new president promised to tackle the cholera outbreak that has killed at least 25, the broken economy and other problems.

Observers say Mr. Mnangagwa has his work cut out for him. The instability and ill will generated by the election will make an economic overhaul that is much harder to carry off.

The Zimbabwean economy will rebound only after the ZANU-PF loses power, said George Makoni, 37, an advocacy officer with the Center for Community Development in Zimbabwe, a nongovernmental organization.

If the ruling ZANU-PF remains in control, citizens will be restive and Mr. Mnangagwa will need to resort to oppression and coercion, the very tactics he pledged to end when he kicked Mr. Mugabe out of the president’s office, Mr. Makoni said.

“Possibly a coalition government would salvage Zimbabwe from being snubbed by lucrative investors,” Mr. Makoni said. “The current political tension between ZANU-PF and [the opposition Movement for Democratic Change alliance] scares the investors. Investor confidence can be built only by harmony and peace as guarantees for the security of investments in any given country.”

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa declined Mr. Mnangagwa’s invitation to attend the opening of the newly elected Parliament, and a government spokesman made clear that the ruling party did not appreciate the walkout of MDC members and their allies as the president was to deliver his address.

“You don’t go to an election to rule with an opposition,” ZANU-PF Legal Secretary Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana told reporters. “You go to an election so that people make a choice as to who do they want to lead the country. The people of Zimbabwe gave President Emmerson Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF that mandate.

“ZANU-PF has more than two-thirds majority, so it does not need anyone else to rule the country because it got the mandate from the people,” Mr. Mangwana said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Makoni noted that President Trump signed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018, updating a 2001 version of the law that imposed sanctions on the country unless the government upheld civil rights and ensured free and fair elections.

Suspect elections

Critics of the president say the July 30 election was a sham. Mr. Mnangagwa defeated Mr. Chamisa of the MDC Alliance by more than 6 percentage points, and the high court last month upheld the victory. Even so, skeptics say widespread electoral irregularities mean it’s unlikely that Mr. Mnangagwa won the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Ambassador Brian Nichols said this month that the United States would not lift the Zimbabwe sanctions until it was clear that Mr. Mnangagwa embarked on major reforms.

The reforms are critical. After nearly four decades of authoritarian rule and fiscal mismanagement under Mr. Mugabe, one of the African continent’s most promising nations has been reduced to economic ruin. A collapse in the agriculture sector and hyperinflation once left people carrying buckets of cash to buy daily staples. Currently, about 90 percent of Zimbabweans are unemployed, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

The Trump administration’s renewal of Mugabe-era sanctions “speaks volumes of the doom being faced by Zimbabwe,” Mr. Makoni said.

Also, the initial energy and euphoria that followed Mr. Mugabe’s ouster has been lost, analysts say. That will make it hard for Zimbabwe to revive industries, adopt anti-corruption measures, attract foreign investment and bolster the rule of law.

“There is general despair, uncertainty, fear of worse things to come,” said Takavafira Zhou, 51, a political analyst at the Great Zimbabwe University. “Fundamentally, the pre-election period was relatively peaceful. ... People turned up in large numbers on election day looking forward to the dawn of a new era. Sadly, the postelection period has seen a deterioration of the political landscape ... generating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and hopelessness.

“However, there are ZANU-PF vandals and economic bandits who are quite happy that Mnangagwa’s victory will afford them five more years of plundering and siphoning state resources for their personal benefits,” he said.

ZANU-PF supporters reject that view, saying Mr. Mnangagwa a onetime top security aide to Mr. Mugabe should be given the time to implement meaningful reforms. Mr. Chamisa’s supporters are the ones destabilizing the country, they argue.

Netsai Mujeyi, 78, who supports the new president, said she hasn’t given up on the prospect for a better life.

“We voted for Mnangagwa because he mobilized the army to remove Robert Mugabe from office,” she said. “We had suffered enough, and we could not get our pensions under Mugabe. Besides, I couldn’t vote for a young man like Chamisa who still needs to grow up first before we could trust him with the presidency.”

Some MDC members reluctantly accepted those sentiments.

“Zimbabweans must just accept the results and move on,” said Warship Dumba, 54, a former MDC city councilor in Harare. “We must move on since we can’t be at war with ourselves forever.”

Not all Zimbabweans embrace that view.

“We are prepared to defend our votes with our souls,” said Mr. Ndlovu. “We do not have the guns that the soldiers have, but our voices are too loud for them to be ignored.”

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