Zimbabwe Gets A New Leader For The First Time

Nov 23, 2017
Originally published on November 23, 2017 8:18 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Zimbabwe swears in a new leader tomorrow. President Robert Mugabe resigned earlier this week at the demand of the military and some of his one-time political allies. It's the first change in power in Zimbabwe's history. Mugabe had led the country since its independence 37 years ago. The new leader is the very man Mugabe had tried to push aside, triggering the military takeover. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital Harare for the swearing in. Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want people to know that you've been to Zimbabwe many times. Every time, Mugabe was in power. What was it like to arrive in Harare and find him not in power?

QUIST-ARCTON: Steve, from the airport, an immigration officer to the taxi driver to everybody at the hotel - everybody is saying, welcome to a new Zimbabwe. I've been coming to Zimbabwe since 1987, and, as you say, Robert Mugabe has always been the president, in the good times after independence to the Zimbabwe where the economy and hyperinflation was running at - what? - trillions. You know, there was a $100 trillion banknote. Now, everybody is saying this is a new Zimbabwe. We hope there will be change. We hope there will be change because the man who brought us down, although he was father of the nation, he let us down. And now at last he has gone.

INSKEEP: Although the man who will replace him is from the same political party, we should mention, and he left the country briefly after he was fired by Mugabe and has also returned, just as you have. What did he say when he returned?

QUIST-ARCTON: And as you say, Steve, that is really important to remember, the fact that it is the governing ZANU-PF that still controls the levers of power in Zimbabwe. And that's what many people have been talking about. Emmerson Mnangagwa flew in yesterday. First thing he said is that he left because he feared for his life, that there was a plot to poison him, and he promised very many things. He claims he wants to unify Zimbabwe. He wants to bring Zimbabweans together, but he was speaking at the party headquarters, not to all Zimbabweans, but he did say that he wants to fix the economy and bring employment. Have a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EMMERSON MNANGAGWA: We work together.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MNANGAGWA: No one is more important than the other.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MNANGAGWA: We are all Zimbabweans.

(CHEERING)

MNANGAGWA: We want to grow our economy.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MNANGAGWA: We want peace in our country.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MNANGAGWA: We want jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Yes.

MNANGAGWA: Jobs, jobs.

INSKEEP: While we hear lots of enthusiasm in the crowd there at least, what about more broadly in the country?

QUIST-ARCTON: Aha, and that is it, Steve. Zimbabweans have lost their fear. That is so important. Every time I come here, people will talk to you but not out in the open. Now they are speaking out. And you heard the supporters agreeing with Emmerson Mnangagwa, but then there are plenty of Zimbabweans who don't back him. Listen, for example, to Godfrey Mazwe (ph).

GODFREY MAZWE: At least there's hope for a better future, even though I am still suspicious of what is going to happen since we are still in the - nothing is still clear. I mean, everything is still dark for now. But I...

QUIST-ARCTON: There's still uncertainty.

MAZWE: Yeah. There's still a whole lot of uncertainty and a fear for the future because the very same people, the suspicious people, is just a change of hands.

INSKEEP: He says the very same people in power. Well, there was an opposition to the ruling party. Are they seeing this as a real change?

QUIST-ARCTON: Not yet. It's much too early, and many people are asking, is the opposition going to be included? We have had the ZANU-PF party ruling us for 37 years. We need true change. Is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who now finishes former President Mugabe's term of office until elections scheduled next year by late September 2018 - are they going to show that they want all Zimbabweans to be involved? Is Emmerson Mnangagwa going to include the opposition and even maybe Joice Mujuru, who was a former vice president as well before him who was also kicked out of the party? Are all these people going to be included? That is a question that we don't know the answer to yet.

INSKEEP: What's happening now to former President Mugabe?

QUIST-ARCTON: Very quiet since he had to be pushed with the threat of an impeachment out of office. But there is a photograph of former President Mugabe, the first lady, Grace Mugabe, and of course, she is seen as having been the liability of the president because she was so ambitious and wanted to become vice president. There's a photo of them with three people behind them, somebody from Central Intelligence, we're told, the former head of the Reserve Bank and they're looking a little glum. They are looking a little glum, but we don't know whether they're going to decide to stay in Zimbabwe or move.

Zimbabweans are very kind people. We're even hearing that the authorities are prepared to grant Mugabe immunity from prosecution as part of his resignation and retirement deal. They are not so keen on the first lady, but people are speaking out, Steve. That is what you really notice. They're saying what is on their mind. And they're saying we're not going to put up with this sort of misrule where the economy has been ruined, where health service, education - you name it - potholes in the street - we want change now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Zimbabwe where a new president is to be sworn in tomorrow. Ofeibea, always a pleasure talking with you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure to speak to you, Steve. It's extraordinary to be in this new Zimbabwe, as they're calling it; quite a change, quite a change. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.