HARARE - Zimbabwe on Friday saw its first new head of state in 37 years with the swearing in of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Robert Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has ever known, was forced to resign earlier this week after 37 years in power.
"I, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, swear that as president of the republic of Zimbabwe, I [inaudible], of Zimbabwe, and I will uphold and defend the constitution and all of the laws of Zimbabwe," Mnangagwa attested during a pomp-filled, exuberant ceremony that included music, dancing, dignitaries — and promises.
President Mnangagwa won't have time to rest on his laurels and celebrate winning the job he clearly eyed for decades while serving as Mugabe's right-hand man.
He will serve out the remainder of Mugabe's term, which is slated to end in mid-2018. Nevertheless, he laid out an ambitious program of economic, social and political reforms.
"For the time that I shall be president of Zimbabwe, I solemnly promise that I shall, to the best of my ability, serve everyone, everyone, who calls and considers Zimbabwe their home," he stated to a cheering audience. "I encourage all of us to remain peaceful even as preparations for political contestations for next year's harmonized free and fair elections gather momentum. The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Attendees said they were most interested in the economic promises that Mnangagwa made, which comprised the majority of his speech. He said Zimbabwe would attempt to pay its international debts, would loosen import restrictions, and would work to make sure Zimbabweans could get easier access to hard currency — a promise which drew massive cheers in a nation where nine currencies are legal tender, but where cash is woefully scarce.
The 60,000-seat stadium in the capital was packed to the rafters, with thousands of revelers who arrived several hours before the main event. But one absence stood out: 93-year-old Robert Mugabe was nowhere to be found among the front row of southern African presidents, current and former.
Mnangagwa — who was a close ally of Mugabe until Mugabe fired him earlier this month and set off the crisis that prompted Mugabe to resign — praised his predecessor and urged people to forgive.
Some attendees traveled a long way for the ceremony. Solomon Gatsa, 34, took a five-hour bus ride from the nation's second city of Bulawayo. He offered the new president some simple advice.
"The first thing, he starts to change the economy. After that, the people need to have a job," Gatsa told VOA.
Emillia Majandari, who is 35, said she was less focused on the details of his speech. She said she has only ever known one president, Mugabe, and had to see this event in person.
"I'm very excited. I wanted to see for myself; is it real? I'm overexcited. I'm overjoyed, the joy I have, ah!” she said.
Mnangagwa, too, appeared pleased as he accepted the ceremonial sash and trappings of the presidency. But, he said, Zimbabwe has many, many challenges ahead, and told his people that for things to improve, everyone would need to get to work.
Zimbabweans listened — however, the honking horns and the dancing in the streets of Harare on Friday indicate that many people are taking a day to celebrate first.