By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on Friday marking a new era for a country dominated by Robert Mugabe whose swift downfall this week ended nearly four decades in power.
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.
Mugabe held on for a week with ZANU-PF and others urging him to resign. He stepped down finally on Tuesday moments after 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.
Mnangagwa will land at Manyame Airbase in Harare at 6pm (1600 GMT), state broadcaster ZBC said.
“I am advised that the swearing-in ceremony is planned for Friday,” Mudenda said. Mnangagwa issued a statement from hiding on Tuesday calling on Zimbabweans to unite to rebuild the country.
Other African countries have seen veteran leaders ousted by popular uprisings or in elections.
By contrast, the military has ushered Mnangagwa to the threshold of power and for decades he was a faithful ally of Mugabe in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed.
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 16 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.
Mugabe leaves a complex 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, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Ivory Coast and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
But he also presided over a steep decline in Zimbabwe’s economy, won a series of elections after stifling the opposition and he stands accused of persecuting opponents.
The forced takeover of white-owned farms from around 2000 aimed to bolster populist support for Mugabe 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.”
(Reporting by Harare and Johannesburg bureaus; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)