Despite having little to show from his first full term in office, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is the strong favorite to win an election Wednesday that has so far failed to catch anyone’s imagination.
When Mnangagwa came to power after the the ouster of Robert Mugabe in 2017, he was hailed by some—including large crowds of celebrating Zimbabweans—as the savior of the country’s democracy. This was always an unfitting description, reflecting more the relief of being rid of Mugabe than a realistic assessment of Mnangagwa’s democratic credentials. After all, as Mugabe’s enforcer-in-chief, Mnangagwa had played a central role in keeping the longtime dictator in power and enabling the abuses of his administration.
That did not stop Mnangagwa from embracing the hero narrative when he successfully ran for president in the country’s first post-Mugabe election in 2018. Draped by a jaunty scarf in the colors of the Zimbabwean flag, he promised to deliver a “new dawn” that would restore the country’s prosperity and democracy.