For the first time since the country gained independence from white minority rule in 1980, Zimbabwe has a new leader. At a packed stadium in the capital city Harare, Emmerson Mnangagwa promised not to "squander this moment" to change the culture of politics in his country.
The outgoing president, Robert Mugabe, had said he would not attend the day's festivities because he "needed time to rest." The 93-year-old Mugabe resigned a few days ago after 37 years in power, in the face of military pressure and mass demonstrations. He has said he will remain in the country, and Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper says Mnangagwa has assured him and his family of their protection.
As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has reported, the past few weeks have been a time of political upheaval in Zimbabwe. On Nov. 6, Mnangagwa was fired as vice president by Mugabe, and fled to South Africa, saying he feared for his life. But the military refused to accept Mnangagwa's dismissal, and warned that the army might intervene to restore stability. The next day, the military, which is an integral part of the governing ZANU-PF party behemoth, seized control and confined Mugabe to his residence. Under mounting pressure, the president stepped down Nov. 20.
Mnangagwa has overcome this moment of political chaos, but he faces many challenges as he steps into the presidency: corruption, economic troubles, and international condemnation chief among them.
As The Associated Press reports, "President Emmerson Mnangagwa is making a range of promises with the aim of reviving a once-prosperous economy that has collapsed amid mismanagement and international sanctions." In his inaugural speech, he promised the international community that "all foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe," and promised his people that democratic elections will be held next year as scheduled.
Still, some Zimbabweans are skeptical. As NPR has reported, it's not clear how much of a policy change the new leader will herald.
"Zimbabweans I know — I'm Zimbabwean — we're ululating all around the world, and we are celebrating," journalist Michelle Faul told Weekend All Things Considered, "but we need to be cautious. This is not a revolution to bring reform. This is about an internal ZANU-PF coup to ensure that ZANU continues its one-party rule of Zimbabwe."
"He's no savior," Ofeibea reported last week. "He's cut from the same cloth [as Mugabe], the cloth that has seen Zimbabwe's economy tumble. This was the breadbasket of southern Africa. He's also seen as having been absolutely brutal in the '80s in Matabeleland when there was a massacre. So people shouldn't think of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who may come back and head an interim government, as being a savior for Zimbabwe — certainly not."