Under house arrest, the longtime leader could resist, negotiate, or follow the instructions of Zimbabwe’s new masters

The final unravelling of the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe began with an uncharacteristic tactical error. To clear the way to power for his wife, Grace, and her increasingly influential faction, the 93-year-old autocrat sought a decisive confrontation with the only man in the former British colony who had the power to mount a successful challenge to his authority – and he lost.

Emerson Mnangagwa, the former vice-president whose cunning, longevity and toughness earned him the nickname “the Crocodile”, was unceremoniously stripped of his office by Mugabe nine days ago.

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