ON the afternoon of November 22 2017, a day after a cornered former president Robert Mugabe resigned under pressure from the military — which was holding his family captive while a parliamentary process to impeach him was underway — Emmerson Mnangagwa returned from a brief, self-imposed exile in South Africa, a hero in many people’s eyes.
He gave a speech at the Zanu PF headquarters in Harare where he pledged that he would be a listening president.
“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he said, vowing to step down from power if the people of Zimbabwe demanded so.
He had returned to rule Zimbabwe following a two-week exile, fearing that his mentor-turned-political rival would arrest and possibly kill him as the fight to succeed the then ailing Mugabe intensified in Zanu PF.
Following his dramatic escape through Mozambique, Mnangagwa had promised to return in a few weeks. He did so triumphantly.
Writers and authors rode on his prediction and Douglas Rogers even titled his book after those Two Weeks in November.
On November 24, he was sworn in as the new President of Zimbabwe at the National Sports Stadium where African heads of states made hurried plans to attend.
Former Botswana president Ian Seretse Khama was among the dignitaries. However, he this week expressed regret at attending the inauguration.
“I was really happy to share the words he (Mnangagwa) expressed at that inauguration about how he planned to take the nation of Zimbabwe forward. Coming away from that event, I thought to myself that this is great news and I wished him all the best,” Khama said.
“I saw this as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break from the past ways of doing things as there were indications that the country will be on the path to prosperity again.
“Sadly, that part of the letter which hoped that there would be a new dispensation unfortunately has not happened and Zimbabweans are saying their situation is now worse than it was under Mugabe.”
Khama is not in a club of one.
Mnangagwa enjoyed a lot of goodwill on rising to power and many believed Zimbabwe had been given a new lifeline.
However, seeds of doubt started being sown after he appointed his first cabinet on November 30, 2017, which contained the bulk of political deadwood that was in the Mugabe administration.
Critics said the original line-up showed Mnangagwa had no plans to bring real change to the country despite hailing a “new democracy”.
Not only that, two days later Mnangagwa had already made changes after public outcry over a breach over the constitution, particularly the section that limits the number of ministers appointed by the President who are not MPs.
Diplomats said they were ready to work with Mnangagwa who had indicated that he wanted to end Zimbabwe’s pariah state status and isolation from the international community.
On May 15, 2018, Mnangagwa made an application to re-join the Commonwealth and its Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said in a statement that Zimbabwe would need to satisfy the conditions of the club of former British colonies.
Two years down the line, the country is scrambling and appealing to other countries in the group to assist after failing to satisfy the conditions.
Investors came and signed billions of dollar worth of deals, which were headlined in the state media.
“Zimbabwe is open for business” was a mantra that became a slogan in his government that has since died down.
Mnangagwa said his administration would focus more on business and less of politics, which was music to the ears of many Zimbabweans.
British peer Peter Hain, a former critic of Mugabe’s regime flew into Zimbabwe at the end of May accompanied by South Africa’s Moti Group chairperson Zunaid Moti for business meetings with Mnangagwa and his government, declaring that Zimbabwe shall rise from the ashes.
Speaking in the British parliament last month, Hain changed his song, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to impose new sanctions on key Zimbabwean ministers and security chiefs.
In January 2018, Mnangagwa went for his first international trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The much-hyped trip presented an opportunity for Zimbabwe to rebrand itself. This is when a scarf in the colours of the Zimbabwe flag that he wore became popular; Mnangagwa has worn it since then.
He conducted interviews with international press shaping a new narrative for Zimbabwe and met with the international financial institutions.
It seemed Zimbabwe was on course to turn a new page, despite the initial disappointment.
But he threw the early gains out of the window by holding elections without reforms.
Protestors went into the streets on August 1, 2018 demonstrating against the delay in announcing results by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Disaster struck for the country as soldiers gunned down six unarmed civilians in broad daylight and in full view of international media. Dozens more people were injured.
On August 29, 2018 Mnangagwa set up a commission led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe to look into the shootings. Many believed it was a good move while his backers were quick to blame Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga for the brutality. But during the hearings, it was evident that the highest office in the land had approved the deployment.
Still, many said the fact that he had appointed a commission of inquiry, meant that he was willing to correct mistakes. To this day the recommendations by the commission have not been implemented.
In January 2019, protestors again took to the streets complaining against a 150% increase in fuel prices by government announced by Mnangagwa at State House.
The army and police descended on protestors hard, killing around 17 people, according to the Human Rights Forum report of February 2019. Seventeen women said they had been sexually assaulted and raped by allegedly members of the security forces.
On June 5, 2019, the European Union, and Zimbabwe started the first official dialogue session, which was seen as a sign of goodwill. The second was held in November of the same year.
A public spat however erupted between Mnangagwa and European Union ambassador Timo Olkkonen on August 21, 2019 over the deteriorating human rights abuses in Zimbabwe at the official launch of an anti-corruption awareness campaign.
Olkkonen had decried the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Mnangagwa was not pleased, saying the diplomat should have not mentioned it at an anti-corruption event.
Mnangagwa’s rule has been characterised by abductions, torture, rape, arrests as well as killings of people deemed to be his opponents.
In March 2020, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) slapped the former commander of Zimbabwe’s presidential guard, Anselem Sanyatwe and State Security minister Owen Ncube with sanctions for their involvement in human rights abuses in the aftermath of the July 2018 elections.
Sanyatwe, who commanded the killer soldiers deployed in central Harare on 1 August, had in August 2019 been blocked from travelling to the US alongside because of his role in the crackdown.
United States national security adviser Robert O’Brien on May 31 described Zimbabwe as a foreign adversary accusing the country of stirring antiracism protests over the death of George Floyd.
America this month further added Mnangagwa’s business partner and ally Kudakwashe Tagwirei and his company Sakunda Holdings on the sanctions list over corruption.
While Mnangagwa entered the presidential arena declaring that the sanctions excuse used by the Mugabe regime should not be used as a scapegoat for economic failure, it did not take his administration long to use the same excuse.
Last October, the government even organised an anti-sanctions day march.
Mnangagwa has increasingly found himself under pressure because of discontent over corruption, economic mismanagement and state-sponsored brutality. Like Mugabe, he has relied on instruments of coercion to crush dissent.
On July 31, Zimbabweans called for a nationwide protest over corruption and government failure to deliver on its promises.
The army and police came out in full force, blocking all routes into major cities and towns. Ahead of the protests, opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono were arrested and charged with incitement of violence during the planned demonstrations.
But that did not stop Zimbabweans from crying out, with the online campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter going viral and getting much traction that African Union and South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa sent special envoys to Zimbabwe this week.
It has been a spectacular fall from grace.
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