Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was inaugurated this past Sunday after the country’s Supreme Court threw out legal challenges to his election win. Mnangagwa previously served as vice president to Robert Mugabe and following a coup d’etat last November, was appointed acting president. While many hope he can usher in a new era of stability, others fear that Mnangagwa’s ties to the military will undermine democratization efforts.
In his inauguration speech, Mnangagwa laid out his hopes for the country, saying “The vision of a new and prosperous Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe we all want is a shared one and transcends political party lines.” The country has a history of political conflict and is currently plagued by an economic crisis that has left millions impoverished. Mugabe’s regime is faulted for major corruption and violent repression, and last month’s election was seen as a major turning point for the country. Although the European Union did note some voter intimidation and an “unlevel playing field,” Western election monitors were largely satisfied with the election. Optimism, however, has been short-lived. Just two days after Mnangagwa’s election, the military open fired on protesters, and Al Jaeera reports that at least 6 people were killed. Members of the opposition have also been jailed or faced other types of intimidation.
Faced with a considerable cash shortage, Zimbabwe is in desperate need of international investment, and democratization has become a prerequisite revitalization. Violent repression creates a climate of instability that scares away investors. The United States has also extended Mugabe-era sanctions until Zimbabwe can meet certain conditions- the army must “respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons,” a tenement clearly violated by August 1st’s shootings. With sanctions in place, Zimbabwe faces major barriers in accessing funds from international institutions like the IMF.
Mnangagwa has made strides in moving Zimbabwe into a new era; under his presidency, the country has seen over $16 billion in investments according to Brookings Institute. The election also saw greater enfranchisement of Zimbabweans. However, it is crucial that Mnangagwa not backslide into the repressive practices that characterized his predecessor’s reign. Mnangagwa can still hold the military accountable for attacking protestors, which would signal a strong commitment to democratic freedoms. He should also do more to decrease the military’s influence, while tackling other forms of internal corruption that cost billions in revenue. Both will help to curb violent practices while also creating a climate favourable to foreign investors and economic growth.
Both political repression and high rates of poverty have the potential to breed instability- beyond their direct harms, these factors prompt large-scale protests as happened in Venezuela. Mnangagwa’s ability to tackle domestic issues will be crucial in ensuring not only the safety of civilians, but also the country’s long term stability.
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