Mnangagwa is sworn in as Zimbabwe’s 2nd leader since independence

Robert Mugabe’s longtime right-hand man becomes country’s new president
Emmerson Mnangagwa is sworn in as Zimbabwe's new president on Nov. 24, 2017.
Emmerson Mnangagwa is sworn in as Zimbabwe's new president on Nov. 24, 2017.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — When Robert Mugabe stepped down as president this week, Mevion Gambiza, 28, quickly joined the throng of people celebrating the sudden end of his 37-year rule. Gambiza jumped on the roof of a taxi and rode around as the driver honked through the streets of the capital.

But by Friday morning, Gambiza, like many other Zimbabweans, had sobered up. By the time he came to the National Sport Stadium to watch the swearing-in of the new president — Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s longtime right-hand man — it was more to witness history than from any enthusiasm.

“Nothing will change; poverty and suffering will continue,” said Gambiza, a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe. The only difference now, he said, was that one faction of the governing party had “outcompeted its rival, and now Mnangagwa’s bootlickers will have their full turn to loot from the state coffers.”

Mnangagwa, who fled into a brief exile after losing a power struggle less than three weeks ago, became Zimbabwe’s new president Friday, succeeding Mugabe, 93, the leader he had backed for decades before helping to oust him last week.

In his address, Mnangagwa (pronounced muh-nahn-GAHG-wah) said that the country’s domestic politics had “become poisoned and rancorous and polarizing,” apparently referring to the factional fighting inside the governing party, ZANU-PF.

“We should never remain hostages of our past,” Mnangagwa said, adding that his compatriots should “let bygones be bygones, readily embracing each other in defining a new destiny in our beloved Zimbabwe.”

Mnangagwa’s exact role in the military intervention that led to Mugabe’s downfall is not yet known. But on Wednesday, just hours after returning to Zimbabwe from South Africa, Mnangagwa thanked the generals who had backed him, saying he had been “in constant contact with the service chiefs throughout” the recent events.

In his 37-minute speech, Mnangagwa reached out to rivals, though only in general terms.

But whether his conciliatory words translate to action remains to be seen. Local and international organizations have said that several leaders of the losing faction were arrested and detained by the army, which is not authorized to do so. Some are still missing, their homes have been ransacked and their relatives beaten, human rights groups say.

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