Nov. 25 (UPI) — For just the second time since Zimbabwe gained independence, the nation has a new leader. Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe on Friday.
Thousands celebrated this week in the streets of Harare, the nation’s capital, when it was announced longtime president Robert Mugabe was leaving his post. Mugabe has been blamed for ordering violence against his own citizens, quashing free speech and rigging elections, among other charges.
Those celebrating had hope of improvement for the government and an economy that has stagnated under Mugabe’s 37-year rule. Some of that hope faded when it was announced Mugabe’s longtime right-hand man would succeed him.
“Nothing will change; poverty and suffering will continue,” 28-year-old Mevion Gambiza, a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe, told the New York Times.
Mnangagwa appeared to have lost a political power struggle earlier this month and briefly fled in exile. His political trajectory reversed course, as he assumed control of the country’s government on Friday.
For Gambiza, Mnangagwa’s ascension proved only that his political faction “outcompeted its rival, and now Mnangagwa’s bootlickers will have their full turn to loot from the state coffers.”
During his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa promised to resurrect the country’s economy by engaging with neighbors and recruiting foreign investment. He encouraged citizens to work together with the government to solve problems and bridge divides.
“Even if I make constant reference to my party, Zanu PF, I am not oblivious to the many Zimbabweans from across the political, ethnic and racial divide … have legitimate expectations from the office I now occupy,” Mnangagwa said.
Mnangagwa said he would not reverse the land reforms that led to the confiscation of white-owned farms under Mugabe’s rule, but said those who lost land will be compensated.
The new president said elections would be held in the next year. Mugabe said he intends to contest the election, while opposition leaders, including Zanu PF’s rival, Movement for Democratic Change, have also pledged to challenge the polls.
At least one citizen said they have reason to be pessimistic about the country’s political future.
“I’m worried that the opposition may now never find another chance to rule,” Artwell Mugari, 44, a security guard at a hotel in Harare, told the Times. “Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s right-hand man who did all the dirty work for him at every election. He knows the tricks of keeping power.”