HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on Friday, marking a new era for the country ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence nearly four decades ago until his swift downfall this week.
The ruling ZANU-PF party has nominated Mnangagwa to fill the vacancy left by Mugabe on Tuesday and he will be sworn in on Friday, said Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of parliament.
Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa as vice president two weeks ago to smooth a path to the succession for his wife Grace, who is much younger than the 93-year-old leader. Mnangagwa fled for his own safety and the military seized control, shattering Mugabe’s authority.
He returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday, a ZANU-PF official said. Mnangagwa issued a statement from hiding on Tuesday calling on Zimbabweans to unite to rebuild the country.
Mugabe held on for a week with ZANU-PF and others urging him to quit. He finally stepped down on Tuesday as parliament began an impeachment process. People danced in the streets and some brandished posters of Mnangagwa and army Chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the takeover.
The demise of Mugabe leaves Zimbabwe facing a different situation to other African countries where veteran leaders have been toppled in popular uprisings or through elections.
By contrast, the army has engineered Mnangagwa’s path to power and for decades he was a faithful lieutenant of Mugabe and member of his elite. He was also in charge of internal security when rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed in the 1980s.
“Mugabe has gone but I don’t see Mnangagwa doing anything different from that old man. This is not the change I expected but let us give him time,” said security guard Edgar Mapuranga, who sat by an bank cash machine that was out of money.
Zimbabwe’s next leader faces the task of restoring the country’s fortunes. Alleged human rights abuses and flawed elections prompted many Western countries to impose sanctions in the early 2000s that hurt the economy.
Chinese investment softened the blow but the population of 13 million remains mainly poor and faces currency shortages and high unemployment. Staging clean elections next year will be key to winning fresh investment.
Mnangagwa is almost certain to win that election but it would be a victory for the country’s “old elites” with the aid of China, said Guenther Nooke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal representative for Africa.
“He will manage to get elected using fear or many tricks, and then we’ll have a succession from one tyrant to the next,” Nooke told broadcaster SWR2.
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it respected Mugabe’s decision to resign.
Former colonial power Britain wants Zimbabwe to rejoin the international community now Mugabe has resigned, Prime Minister Theresa May said. Mnangagwa met South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in the capital Pretoria on Wednesday, the eNCA television channel said.
Mugabe leaves a contradictory legacy. He is among the last of a generation of African leaders who led their countries to independence and then ruled. That group includes Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Ivory Coast and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
He also presided over a steep decline in Zimbabwe’s economy and stifled the country’s democracy en route to winning a series of elections. His government is accused by the opposition and human rights groups of persecuting and killing opponents.
The forced takeover of white-owned farms from around 2000 aimed to bolster his popular support but crippled foreign exchange earnings from agriculture and led to a period of hyperinflation.
“President Mugabe will be remembered as a fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter and the father of the independent Zimbabwean nation,” the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in a statement.
It said his decision to step down would enhance his legacy.
Many Zimbabweans also remain hostile to Mnangagwa because of his human rights record.
“The dark past is not going to disappear. They will be following him around like a piece of chewing gum on his shoe,” International Crisis Group’s southern Africa senior consultant Piers Pigou said.
“For him to really be seen to be doing the right thing, he’s going to have to introduce policies that fundamentally undermine the power structures of ZANU-PF, through a shift to genuine political pluralism and a decoupling of the party and state.”