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The Globe and Mail

Enter the crocodile: Mnangagwa is the leader Zimbabwe needs

Innocent Madawo is a former Zimbabwean journalist based in Edmonton.

Like a scene in an animal kingdom play, "wily fox" Robert Mugabe is no longer president of Zimbabwe and the world's attention is now focused on the "crocodile" who is replacing him, former protégé Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.

Many have wondered whether Mr. Mnangagwa is the right man to lead Zimbabwe into the post-Mugabe era given that he played a leading role in all the human-rights abuses and economic plunder presided over by Mr. Mugabe.

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My view is an emphatic yes, for several reasons.

To begin with, Mr. Mnangagwa achieved what other political giants in Zimbabwe's history failed to do – that is, to outwit and topple Mr. Mugabe. Ian Smith, Ndabaningi Sithole, Joshua Nkomo, Edgar Tekere and most recently Morgan Tsvangirai, all tried without success, largely because Mr. Mnangagwa was Mr. Mugabe's shield starting from when he was the former president's hand-picked personal aide in the liberation war of the 1970s.

Mr. Mnangagwa, a former minister of defence and state security, built and controlled Mr. Mugabe's power base, the security forces, but two weeks ago, the 93-year-old forgot that he enjoyed the protection of these forces at the benevolence of his former ally.

When he was fired, Mr. Mnangagwa pulled the plug and the unthinkable happened: The military moved on Mr. Mugabe, resulting in what several electoral processes, sanctions and even numerous assassination attempts failed to achieve.

Some may question why, if he controlled the security apparatus all this time, Mr. Mnangagwa did not make his move earlier and save the country. The simple answer is opportunity. Mr. Mugabe's dismissal of Mr. Mnangagwa, at the behest of his ambitious wife Grace – the most hated person in the country – turned Mr. Mnangagwa from villain to victim, and Zimbabweans rallied behind their newly minted Robin Hood. He won their hearts by instructing the military to let people express themselves freely.

But even more important, a close observation of what was going on in Zimbabwe over the past two weeks will have revealed what was missing: an outrage from the opposition, civil society and even the international community.

This is because Mr. Mnangagwa and his generals did not conceive and execute what they refuse to call a coup in complete isolation. The relevant opposition and civic leaders were consulted and gave their cautious consent, as publicly acknowledged by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Everyone knew who was going to take Mr. Mugabe's position and they all accepted that he was the best positioned to right the Zimbabwean ship that had been drifting off course for years.

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Indeed, Mr. Mnangagwa has the qualifications to right the ship and do it in short order. Until two weeks ago the 75-year-old lawyer, business magnate and securocrat was vice-president. Over the years, Mr. Mnangagwa held such key portfolios as finance, justice, security, defence, home affairs and was speaker of parliament. He was the power behind Mr. Mugabe. He does not need time to learn the ropes.

Uniting the country should be the simplest of his tasks since he has already begun consultations before he even returns from his brief exile. He has to start with a coalition government of both ZANU-PF and opposition figures to placate the masses who have propelled him into power or he will lose them before he even begins his rule.

His biggest test will be the economy. He has to come up with an economic reform plan that will not only satisfy Zimbabweans but international businesses and donors alike. Fortunately, while foreign business leaders and diplomats decry his human-rights abuses, they regard him highly for his business acumen. They believe he will dismantle Mr. Mugabe's anti-business laws like the Indigenization policy that was largely abused by Mr. Mugabe's acolytes.

But there are also other important issues Mr. Mnangagwa will be expected to address right after he is sworn in as president.

Foremost, he has to do, or at least say, something to placate the victims of the atrocities he helped execute against the people of Matabeleland in the 1980s and opposition members who were killed or disappeared over the years.

Equally important is the issue of white farmers whose land was confiscated under Mr. Mugabe's disastrous land-reform program.

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These issues could derail Mr. Mnangagwa's presidency in its infancy if he does not handle them to everyone's satisfaction.

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