The race for Zimbabwe’s presidency: An examination of the leading candidates

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Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for August 23rd, are fast approaching. Despite a field crowded with a dozen aspirants, two candidates – incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, representing the ruling ZANU-PF party, and Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) – are dominating the narrative. Here’s what you need to know about these two key contenders.

Emmerson Mnangagwa

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the incumbent President of Zimbabwe, is no stranger to the rough and tumble of Zimbabwean politics. Having ascended to power through a military coup that ended the reign of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, the 80-year-old Mnangagwa is seeking a second term. His path to the presidency was paved by serving in various top government roles, including vice president and minister of state security.

Mnangagwa, known as “the Crocodile” in political circles, has proven to be a pragmatic leader. After taking power, he demonstrated his commitment to stimulating Zimbabwe’s economy by promptly scrapping a controversial local business ownership law introduced by Mugabe, which had deterred foreign investment. Despite some criticism, Mnangagwa has steadfastly maintained his pro-business stance, asserting that his government’s policies have created valuable opportunities for locals in sectors such as mining and agriculture.

Mnangagwa’s detractors accuse him of being Mugabe’s enforcer in a regime notorious for its crackdown on dissent. His background as a communist guerrilla, trained in China during the 1960s, coupled with his internal security role when Mugabe engaged a North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to rival Joshua Nkomo, further inflames these accusations.

These controversial actions, known as the Gukurahundi massacres, allegedly resulted in the deaths of 20,000 civilians, predominantly from the Ndebele tribe. Despite Mnangagwa’s denial of responsibility, his tenure as president has seen attempts to address these historical wounds, engaging community leaders in dialogue about compensation and reconciliation.

While his tenure has not been without controversy, Mnangagwa’s determination to spur economic growth and tackle past wrongs underscores his commitment to Zimbabwe’s development. His campaign rests on the belief that his experience, decisiveness, and knowledge of the political landscape position him best to deliver the stability and progress Zimbabwe needs.

However, critics argue that the economic turnaround Mnangagwa promised five years ago remains elusive, citing continued economic instability as a sign of his administration’s shortcomings. Detractors also take issue with his political past, particularly his role in the Mugabe administration, which has been linked with human rights abuses and a repressive approach to dissent.

Nelson Chamisa

On the other end of the contest, Nelson Chamisa represents the new face of Zimbabwean opposition politics. The 45-year-old lawyer and pastor, once a student leader known for spearheading protests against college fees, entered national politics in 1999. Under the stewardship of the late politician Morgan Tsvangirai, he played a significant role in forming the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), presenting a formidable challenge to ZANU-PF’s authority.

Chamisa’s political journey has seen him transition from Zimbabwe’s youngest ever presidential candidate in 2018 – when he narrowly lost to Mnangagwa – to the leader of the newly formed CCC. He is credited with reinvigorating Zimbabwe’s opposition after a significant split weakened it following Tsvangirai’s death in 2018.

Having served as a minister responsible for information and communication technology from 2009 to 2013, Chamisa is well versed in the challenges and intricacies of governance. His agenda, built on promises of economic growth, a fight against corruption, and ending Zimbabwe’s isolation, resonates with many voters. However, detractors argue that his grand electoral promises, including ambitious infrastructure projects, lack crucial details regarding funding.

As Zimbabwe inches closer to its electoral date, the contest between Mnangagwa and Chamisa encapsulates the nation’s thirst for economic stability and progress. Both candidates represent contrasting visions and strategies, each pledging to steer the country towards a better future. As Zimbabweans prepare to cast their votes, the outcome will shape the nation’s course in the years to come.

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