Can a crocodile be democratic?

Only a year ago, western newspaper readers would have considered Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed The Crocodile, as a key instrument in the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe, but today his image has shifted drastically.

After being fired by the former president of Zimbabwe, Mugabe, Mnangagwa led the Zanu-PF party in a military coup, stripping Mugabe of the presidency in a bid to stop Grace Mugabe, Robert’s wife, from succeeding her husband. He is now seen by many as a liberator and has vowed in his first public address to re-invigorate the economy and continue the democratic transition.

Though celebrations have not yet ended over the resignation of Mugabe, many are questioning whether the Crocodile is the right catalyst for change. Before 2017 Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s right-hand-man, having fought together in the 1960s Zimbabwean war for independence. Once Mugabe was elected, Mnangagwa held different positions within his administration; most notable, however, was his role as national security minister in the 1980s. During the 1980s Zimbabwean Civil War, between Mugabe and Zapu opposition leader Joshua Nkomo, Mnangagwa’s cruel reputation was established. The army killed thousands of unarmed civilian opposition supporters, then coerced the surviving villagers into dancing on the graves of their slain neighbors’ while chanting pro-Mubage utterances. Though the Crocodile has downplayed his role significantly, he was the link between Zimbabwe’s intelligence community and military and is said to be one of the founding architects of many of Mugabe’s atrocities.

These heinous acts attributed to Mnangagwa cannot be swept aside too long ago, either. During the 2008 elections, opposition supporters were again set upon by the military, and a ruthless slaughter, that has been closely associated with the Crocodile, ensued. His military coup itself did not seemed inspired from pro-democratic sentiment, but from the removal of Mnangagwa from the roster of successors.

In his latest speech Mnangagwa claimed that his administration will work hard to stifle corruption, saying that they “must shed [the] misbehaviors” of the previous administration. Many of these assumed ‘misbehavours’ were instigated under the alleged authority of Mnagagwa himself, so if his optimistic promises are of chief concern, he should be stepping down. He has pledged to move forward with the 2018 elections, offering a potential hope of serious change, but until the elections have come and past without meddling or military violence, we should be wary of continued celebration.