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Zimbabwe Swears In A New President


Now let's report on a new era in Zimbabwe, which swore in a new president today, replacing Robert Mugabe, who resigned early this week. The new president's name is Emmerson Mnangagwa. Just two weeks ago, he was fired as the vice president. Now he's in charge and pledging to rebuild the devastated economy of Zimbabwe.


PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA: I will devote myself to the well-being of Zimbabwe and its people, so help me, God.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is at the National Stadium where the new president was just sworn in. And, Ofeibea, it sounds like the speaking is still going on behind you there.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Hey, my goodness. And, Steve, there is so much noise that I've actually had to come indoors. We're at the National Stadium where the president took the oath of office and then saluted the military parade and then gave his speech. But, boy, there have been cheers. There have been roars. There have been applause. And there have been a couple of boos, too.

INSKEEP: So a bit of a mixed crowd. And we can still hear the speakers booming. Now, when the new president gave what I guess amounted to an inaugural address, how did he say he was going to fix Zimbabwe's problems?

QUIST-ARCTON: He came back to what he has spoken about since his return on Wednesday about the economy. And we're talking about an economy that is in shambles, an economy that has collapsed. He said, this is the most important issue. And then he talked again about jobs, jobs, jobs. And there was a roar of support and cheers because this is a country with more than 85 percent unemployment and especially youth unemployment.

He said to the students that jobs and the economy, he is thinking of them. And they roared with approval. And we're talking here, of course, of the supporters of the governing ZANU-PF party. He also said he's committed to compensating farmers. And we're talking about white industrial farmers who were driven off their lands and farms - that's what responded to with the boos. And when the police pledged allegiance to him, the police chief, there were boos there as well.

Domestic politics, he says, have become poisoned and polarized. And he is going to improve that and he is going to fight against corruption and encourage foreign investment - tells that foreign investors, you are safe in Zimbabwe.

INSKEEP: It's so interesting to hear you go through that because we're reminded of the history of this place, which was a British colonial possession, which had a small white population, which then gained its independence in 1980. And Robert Mugabe ruled the country effectively for 37 years. But here's what I'm wondering, Ofeibea. It's still the same party in power. It's Robert Mugabe's former vice president. Can the same party in power really change that much?

QUIST-ARCTON: Steve, that is what we must not lose sight of, the fact that despite this military takeover, President Mugabe being pushed out and forced to resign, it is his party, ZANU-PF, that remains in power. The opposition, it just doesn't even have a look in. And, of course, Emmerson Mnangagwa has been a disciple of Robert Mugabe for 40-plus years when they were part of the liberation-independence war struggle.

He calls him (unintelligible). He says, he has been my mentor, I was his son. So those who are opposed to Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF say that it was a repressive regime. It was a regime that brought Zimbabwe's economy to its knees. What is going to change? What Mnangagwa is saying, and we will have to see, is that this is a new dawn, a new democracy. He is going to change Zimbabwe.

But (unintelligible) say his nickname is the crocodile. And they say, it's difficult for a crocodile to change its scales.

INSKEEP: OK, now, you have mentioned in your reporting this week that there is an election coming up. I know there have been elections in Zimbabwe. But can you set the stage for us? There is an opposition, we know that. But is there much of a civil society? Is there much of an independent media? Are there any other conditions that could lead to real democracy?

QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition is in shambles but as for civil society, strong. We saw hashtag and on-the-street protests last year. This flag, tajamuka, #tajamuka, #thisflag. Civil society is pretty strong. And they're saying, look, don't forget the activists. Don't forget the campaigners who have also been opposed to Robert Mugabe over all these years. We are still here. We are still present. When it comes to elections, the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has pledged that elections will go ahead as planned next year.

So what he is doing is finishing President Mugabe's term of office. But whether the opposition is going to become any part of some sort of interim government during the transition, we're not sure yet.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is at a stadium in Zimbabwe where a new president has been sworn in today. Ofeibea, thanks.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.