Emmerson Mnangagwa has pledged to end Zimbabwe’s years of international isolation after being sworn in as president following veteran Robert Mugabe’s removal from power.
Mnangagwa, a long-term Zanu-PF loyalist and veteran of the liberation war, becomes only the second Zimbabwean leader since independence following the sudden end of Mugabe’s 37-year stint in power. The 75-year old, popularly known as ‘The Crocodile’ in a nod to his reputation as a wily and ruthless political operator, was sworn in in front of large crowds at Harare’s 60,000 seat sports stadium. He will initially serve until the end of the presidential term next year.
In an inaugural speech that offered hope to reformists, Mnangagwa pledged to build bridges with the international community and ensure the security of foreign investments in Zimbabwe. He promised renewed action on corruption and job creation, and suggested that he will seek to compensate farmers whose land was confiscated in the controversial land reform programme of the early 2000s. If enacted, such a programme would mark a radical break with policies pursued throughout the Mugabe era.
“I stand here today to say we are willing and able for a steady reengagement with the nations of the world,” he said.
Crowds cheered as the country’s chief justice garlanded Mnangagwa in a green sash after he took the oath of office, in which he pledged to “uphold and defend the constitution and all other laws of Zimbabwe.”
Military chiefs and parades of marching soldiers saluted their new commander in chief, having smoothed the path to his accession by launching the concerted action that forced the resignation of the 93-year old Mugabe. The military acted after Mugabe sacked vice-president Mnangagwa in a bid to smooth the succession for Grace Mugabe, his unpopular wife.
Police chief Augustine Chihuri, widely seen as an ally of Grace Mugabe, was booed as he pledged allegiance to the new president. Regional leaders, including Botswana president Ian Khama – a fierce Mugabe critic – and Zambia president Edgar Lungu, were in attendance.
After an unprecedented fortnight of upheaval, the attention of regional leaders and the wider international community will now turn to how Mnangagwa intends to fulfil his inaugural pledges. The country’s economy remains in a critical state following years of international sanctions , underinvestment, widespread currency shortages and the disintegration of infrastructure and services.
Many Zimbabweans, including the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, are also hopeful that Mnangagwa’s accession offers a rare opportunity to open up the country’s repressive political system. In a speech on Wednesday, his first since returning to the country, Mnangagwa hailed a new beginning and offered hope to reformists, having previously highlighted the views of opposition parties, civic society and students in a letter urging Mugabe to step down.
“The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told supporters. “Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding democracy.”
Yet critics have pointed to decades of cosy relations with the country’s armed forces and security services, as well as his alleged role in Gukurahundi, a 1980s campaign of ethnic massacres directed against Ndebele opponents. Reports have suggested that Mnangagwa has already agreed to immunity from prosecution and safe passage for Mugabe.