In Depth

Emmerson Mnangagwa: economic saviour or brutal boss?

The winner of the Zimbabwean presidential election has a chequered past

Emmerson Mnangagwa has been declared the winner of Zimbabwe’s presidential election, following days of chaos and deadly clashes.

Election observers are still “reserving judgement” of the election, says The New York Times, and it is “not yet clear whether this election would pass the test” and give Mnangagwa “legitimacy as a democratically chosen leader”.

Four days after the vote, it was announced yesterday that Mnangagwa had taken 50.8% of the vote, gaining a narrow majority that spared him a run-off. His closest rival, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, finished on 44.3%.

Chamisa and his party have rejected the official outcome of the election in court.

Mnangagwa was instrumental in the removal of former Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, for whom he had served as an enforcer for decades before staging a coup in 2017. He was sworn in as interim president last November.

Mugabe’s enforcer

As a former minister of both state security and defence, and ex-head of the Joint Operations Command, Mnangagwa has significant influence over the security forces. CNN says the 75-year-old is believed to have been behind the military coup that toppled Mugabe as head of the Zanu-PF party.

Although Mnangagwa took office promising to serve “all citizens regardless of colour, creed, religion, tribe, totem or political affiliation”, some worry that his past - and his decades as Mugabe’s right-hand man - may indicate Zimbabwe is now under the rule of an even more brutal leader.

Mnangagwa’s daughter, Farai Mlotshwa, told BBC Radio 4 that he is a “softie”. But according to the BBC, one veteran of the liberation struggle who worked with Mnangagwa for many years claimed: “He’s a very cruel man, very cruel.”

Mnangagwa: family man or business man?

The new president was born in the central region of Zvishavane, and has two wives and nine children. Like Mugabe, Mnangagwa has been accused of profiting during his time in power. In 2001, a UN report described Mnangagwa as “the architect of the commercial activities of the leading Zanu-PF party”.

“He also is reputed to have amassed a considerable fortune,” ABC News says. “He was named in a United Nations investigation into exploitation of mineral resources in Congo and has been active in making Harare a significant diamond trading centre.”

There are also unproven allegations that he led Operation Gukurahundi, in the early 1980s, when more than 20,000 of Mugabe’s political opponents were killed.

Smooth operator

Mnangagwa - known as The Crocodile for his savvy political style and longevity - is a sharp operator who reportedly had his eye on the top job for at least a decade.

Before his death earlier this year, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told CNN that he doubted Mnangagwa would reform Zimbabwe, but said the new leader “knows he cannot continue on the same path Mugabe has travelled and still expect the population to respect him”.

When he came to power, Mnangagwa promised job creation and economic stability, in a country with an unemployment rate above 90%. Zimbabweans are, on average, 15% poorer now than they were in the 1980s, so for some, President Mnangagwa represents their only hope after a lost generation under Mugabe.

Botswana President Ian Khama was among those expressing optimism, saying: “Zimbabwe has got the potential of being an economic powerhouse.”

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