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Zimbabweans celebrate outside the parliament building after hearing that President Robert Mugabe had resigned, 21 November 2017. Ben Curtis via PA Images

Emmerson Mnangagwa 'A changing of the guard or a genuine fresh start for Zimbabwe?'

It’s been like a dream for many people in Zimbabwe who feared that Mugabe would cling to power until his last breath, writes Sarah McCann.

LAST WEEK’S EVENTS were like a dream for many people in Zimbabwe who feared that Robert Mugabe would cling to power until his last breath, and that even after death his legacy would result in a violent power struggle to replace him.

After a historic week that took everybody by surprise, not only is Mugabe gone but the transition was peaceful – a double cause for celebration for a people tired of both the former president and of political violence.

The big question now is: what next for Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe’s new President

The country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was a senior member of Mugabe’s government for many years. People here are waiting anxiously to learn whether this is simply a changing of the guard or a genuine fresh start for a country wracked by decades of poor governance, corruption and violence.

People want change. That was clear from the spontaneous street demonstrations that erupted after Mugabe was ousted, and it has been re-emphasised time and time again in discussions and comment in the days that have followed.

If the hopes of a new era for the country are to be recognised, the incoming president needs to signal his support for five key issues.

A genuine constitutional democracy

Firstly, there must be free and fair elections managed by a fully independent electoral body. This vital step must go hand-in-hand with the establishment of a genuine constitutional democracy with a clear separation between party, State and security sectors.

The nation needs rebuilding from the ashes of the Mugabe regime. The different ethnicities, tribes and political groupings need to be brought together for national unity. It is our hope that the new government will be created based on the involvement of all Zimbabweans, including those outside the ruling party and beyond the political realm.

Secondly, there needs to be a commitment to the rule of law. The new president must abide by the constitutional requirements for term limits of the presidency.

We also hope that the new government will ensure that there is a public commitment by security forces to respect the outcome of elections regardless of the liberation credentials of the successful party or candidates.

Human and economic rights for all

Thirdly, Zimbabwe urgently needs a commitment to human and economic rights for all. No political transition can be complete without fulfilment of the obligations to respect and promote the enjoyment of all human rights by all people regardless of race, ethnicity or political affiliation.

These fundamental rights – including freedom of association, expression and right to a fair trial – should be extended to all including those recently detained. It is also vital that freedom of speech is respected, and that there is a reversal of recent measures to censor the traditional media and social media.

Human rights should also be understood in an inclusive way that recognises the economic rights of Zimbabwean citizens. In order to safeguard human rights going forward, independent constitutional commissions such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should be empowered to carry out their constitutional mandates.

Fourthly, a key part of any process of democratic transition is that the government be civilian-led and that this is true in practice as well as in theory. This will involve a quick return to barracks for the military, and a commitment that there will be no further military interference in the government, with no military leaders appointed to civilian political positions.

Building a new, united country

To further strengthen the re-assertion of civilian rule, there should be a public commitment that all security forces are meant to serve and protect all the people of Zimbabwe without fear or favour. We urge the new government to urgently engage in security sector reform in order to build more capable, neutral and professional security services.

Lastly, we urge the incoming president and his government to make good on the opportunity to build a new and more united country that is before them. We believe that the new, united and prosperous Zimbabwe should be built on the firm foundation of sincere acknowledgment of past wrongs and earnest efforts to ensure national healing.

A legacy of massacres, violent land seizures and politically-motivated violence has cast a shadow over Zimbabwe. We strongly urge the incoming president and his emerging government to commit fully to a genuine people-driven national healing process that addresses these issues, puts an end to the culture of impunity, and charts the path of the nation to peace and prosperity.

Only then will the events of the last week reap real rewards for people who have suffered for too long.

Sarah McCann is Country Director of Trocaire’s office in Zimbabwe.

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