Who is Emmerson Mnangagwa?
Zimbabwe's coup d'etat was, to an informed observer, extremely strange to say the least. There was no military junta, no brutal crackdown on civilians, no mass executions of the previous government. Instead, Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace Mugabe, were allowed to stay in Zimbabwe with a host of generous benefits. Civilians were taking selfies with soldiers. And, in the end, one man came to power - Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa served in several positions under Robert Mugabe, including defense secretary, minister of finance, minister of state security, and vice president. It was under his tenure as minister of state security during which the Gukurahundi occurred, a bloody crackdown which resulted in the death of 20,000 people and is often labeled as a genocide. This earned him Mugabe's favor, eventually resulting in Mnangagwa becoming Mugabe's presumed successor. However, the rise of Grace Mugabe changed all of this, causing a large rift within the ruling ZANU-PF party between the young, G40 faction (which she led), and Mnangagwa's older faction. Grace was also rightfully viewed as a corrupt kleptocrat who was completely out of touch with the general population. The combination of these two factors eventually led to a very public feud between Grace Mugabe and Emmerson Mnangagwa, forcing Robert Mugabe to side with his wife and expel Mnangagwa from Zimbabwe.
Undeterred, Mnangagwa returned a few days later to lead a coup. But who is Emmerson Mnangagwa? As mentioned before, he helped to carry out the Gukurahundi in 1983. Clearly, he is no liberal-minded western democrat. But this doesn't imply he is bound to be a bad ruler. Paul Kagame is, without a doubt, an authoritarian, but he is also one of the greatest leaders that Africa has ever seen. Kagame's sweeping reforms turned Rwanda from a war-torn backwater in 1994 into one of Africa's most developed and cleanest nations. Similarly, Mnangagwa's planned reforms could easily revitalize Zimbabwe, a country in a state of total economic ruin with a 90% unemployment rate. Mnangagwa plans to sell bonds and fund infrastructure projects, as well as ease regulations which require mines to be 51% black-owned . He also wants to make Zimbabwe more friendly towards business and foreign investment. If Mnangagwa does all of this and succeeds, Zimbabwe could easily blossom into an economic success story, much as Rwanda has during the early 21st century.
But Mnangagwa isn't called "The Crocodile" for nothing. He is a ruthless politician, who used brute force to smash the opposition during the 2008 elections. He is also tough, having survived 10 years of savage beatings in Rhodesian jail, as well as at least three assassination attempts. During the Second Congo War, he is rumored to have ordered the plundering of diamonds from Congolese mines.
The verdict is still out on Emmerson Mnangagwa. I, personally, find the prospect of Zimbabwe becoming a true democracy laughable. However, I do hope that Mnangagwa, like Paul Kagame, will be able to channel his ambition towards lifting his country out of poverty. Else, he will likely be the second version of Robert Mugabe - corrupt, despotic, and resented by his people.