Succession showdown: The post-Mugabe contest could rattle Zimbabwe

Political stirrings in Zimbabwe over President Robert G. Mugabe’s efforts to anoint a successor may plunge the nation of 13 million into deeper turmoil than it faces already.

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Upon achieving independence in 1980, after a violent struggle between the white minority representing 6 percent of the population of Southern Rhodesia and its 94 percent majority of Africans, Zimbabwe appeared to have a good chance at a prosperous future. Its economy included agriculture for food and commercial exports, mining including chrome ore and light industry for export to less developed neighboring countries.

The Africans taking power from the whites were divided into a majority group, the Shona, and a minority, the Ndebele, and the whites, mostly of British stock, were supposed to still be able to participate in the life of the country. There had been two “liberation movements,” one, ZANU, mainly Shona, led by Mr. Mugabe; the other, ZAPU, mainly Ndebele, led by the late Joshua Nkomo,

Mr. Mugabe used the army of newly independent Zimbabwe, aided by North Korea, to stamp out the Ndebele opposition. He then used his African and Shona majority position in the government to eviscerate the country’s economy. Reading the handwriting on the wall as Mr. Mugabe redistributed commercial farmland to his cohorts, many of the whites left, to South Africa or elsewhere. The Zimbabwean currency eventually lost its value.

Given Mr. Mugabe’s 34 years in power, the question has been when will he go? Even at 90, the dictator is durable. His wife, Grace, is 49 and he seems to be building her resume for some future post. She recently was awarded a doctorate degree and Mr. Mugabe’s party just elected her president of its women’s wing.

On Wednesday, however, Zimbabwe’s ruler installed former justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, 68, as vice president, which some experts say puts him in the lead position as successor.

Regardless of who has Mr. Mugabe’s favor, his exit will likely be followed by a scrap among several rivals for the presidency. It will involve the Zimbabwean security forces and the different Shona clans and could further degrade the way of life in Zimbabwe.

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