24 May 2018

Zimbabwe: Six Months Under President Mnangagwa

Six months ago, the coup that Zimbabwe's government refuses to call a coup, gently pushed 93-year-old Robert Mugabe off his seat and replaced him with Emmerson Mnangagwa. How far has Zimbabwe come since then?

For Zimbabweans, the change meant the end of an era. Mugabe was gone and the man known as "the crocodile" presented his new course which was less isolationist, open to new ways of developing the country and preparing Zimbabwe for upcoming elections. After years under Mugabe, many celebrated Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe's hero, turning a blind eye to the fact that he had served as Mugabe's right-hand man.

"These are not new boys in town. These are the very people who were working with Mugabe," veteran musician Thomas Mapfumo said about Mnangagwa and his government. Mapfumo had sung songs against the colonial regime and knew the war veterans around Mugabe. In April 2018, he held his first concert in Zimbabwe after years in exile. "The real change we're talking about is freedom of speech, freedom of movement, our people must have jobs," he said.

"We still have long queues at banks; there are still cash shortages. Companies are still struggling to get foreign currency to import raw materials they need for production," Salome Macheya, a 34-year old vegetable vendor in the capital Harare told DW's Columbus Mavhunga.

"We haven't really seen the benefits of the funding that is said to be coming into the country," Mercy Ranganai, another Harare resident, said. "In terms of freedom of expression, a lot more people are liberal with their views and opinions. You find that there are a lot of political parties that have come to the fore," she added.

More freedom, but for how long?

At the forefront of the political fight for change is political activist and lawyer Doug Coltart. It's true, he admits, the political space has opened up. Striking nurses and mineworkers were allowed to stage protests, rights activists voiced their grievances at live-streamed town meetings and a theater group even put on a satirical play about Mugabe and his wife. But that could change.

"I think political space will close up after the elections if Mnangagwa does win 'by hook or by crook'," says Coltart. "The presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, has been absolutely clear that for them this election is a foreign policy tool. It's about legitimizing themselves." While the government would never admit that they came to power through a military coup, says Coltart, they are well aware that the international community sees it as such and that without elections, they would lack credibility.

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