Zimbabwe’s president channels Mugabe in violent crackdown on protests

Zimbabwe’s president channels Mugabe in violent crackdown on protests

By Luke Vargas   
Published
President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Russia. January 15, 2019. Courtesy: Kremlin Press Office
President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday on a visit to Russia. (Courtesy: Kremlin Press Office)

Emmerson Mnangagwa is looking more ooking more and more like his predecesso as he resorts to violence to suppress fuel price demonstrations.

UNITED NATIONS — When Zimbabweans elected Emmerson Mnangagwa as president last year in the first election not featuring long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, hopes ran high the country had turned the page on years of failed economic policies and state-directed violence.

Those hopes were dashed this week when security forces opened fire on crowds protesting the government’s handling of an ongoing fuel crisis.

Zimbabwe uses the U.S. dollar after its own currency imploded several years ago, but it has now exhausted its reserves and can’t pay to import fuel.

Reaching for a quick fix, Mnangagwa more than doubled fuel prices last Saturday and left the country, sparking mass protests.

Todd Moss is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and says the man running Zimbabwe in Mnangagwa’s place, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, has resorted to some familiar tactics to maintain order.

“He is a long-time enforcer, he’s the head of the military and all the brutal tactics that we’re seeing — shooting civilians in the streets, raiding peoples’ homes in the middle of the night — that’s all organized by Vice President and former general Chiwanga.”  

Moss isn’t hopeful Zimbabwe’s government can or will fix the mess they’ve created.

“It’s like a mafia situation, where there’s a small group that uses their control of the security to enrich themselves and as they see the economy getting worse, they’re like rats on the ship — everyone is grabbing what they can now in a desperate bid to hold onto what they have.”

But instead of writing off Zimbabwe’s problems as endemic, Moss says the U.S. and other countries should harness the leverage they still have over the new president.

“They must make absolutely clear to Mnangagwa that he is responsible for the actions of his military and that all the things he craves from the world – legitimacy, he wants investment and he’s desperate for debt relief from the U.S. and other creditors – all of that is absolutely on the line if he does not rein in the terror we’re seeing unfold today.”

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