Zimbabwe’s president dodged an apparent assassination attempt ahead of a historic election, and a blast at a rally attended by Ethiopia’s new leader killed one person, rattling politics in two African nations in the midst of major transitions.
Video footage from a campaign rally held Saturday in the southwestern town of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, showed an explosion just as President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other ruling-party dignitaries were leaving the stage. The violent blast knocked over several officials of the ZANU-PF party, sending at least one tumbling off the stage. Photos and video showed multiple people wearing party regalia injured and crying for help.
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In an interview on state radio Saturday evening, Mr. Mnangagwa said several senior party members, including his second vice president, Kembo Mohadi, the ZANU-PF chairman and the deputy speaker of parliament were injured in the blast, along with the wife of first Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
“It exploded a few meters away from me, but it is not my time,” he said.
The apparent assassination attempt risks igniting what has so far been a peaceful campaign in Zimbabwe five weeks ahead of the election, in which Mr. Mnangagwa is seeking a popular mandate after ousting longtime strongman Robert Mugabe with the help of the military in November. Polls suggest a close battle for the presidency between the 75-year-old Mr. Mnangagwa, who had been Mr. Mugabe’s right-hand man for decades, and the 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
“The explosion today…could very well change the election and campaign and lead to significant violence, because it is unclear what has happened and who is behind it,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
In addition to the tight race with the MDC, ZANU-PF has been contorted by a power struggle to fill in the void left after Mr. Mugabe’s ouster following nearly four decades in power.
“It could very well be an inside job…amid the internal struggles within ZANU-PF,” Mr. Mavhinga said, adding that it was important for Zimbabwean authorities to investigate and give clarity over what happened.
In the interview, Mr. Mnangagwa said he didn’t believe the attempt on his life would create instability ahead of the election and hinted, that he, too, suspected a party-political motive.
“These are my normal enemies,” he said, adding that this wasn’t the first time someone had tried to eliminate him. “The attempts have been so many. It’s not the first time.”
Previous elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by violence targeting opposition members as well as allegations of vote rigging. But Mr. Mnangagwa has pledged that the July 30 poll would be free and fair, and opposition rallies have gone ahead without disruption.
Zimbabwe urgently needs financial support from international institutions and debt relief,but foreign government, including the U.S. and European Union, have made any help conditional on a credible election.
Earlier Saturday, one person was killed and more than a hundred were injured when a grenade was thrown into a rally in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, the country’s health minister said. Thousands had attended the rally in support of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose economic and political overhauls have irked some local elites.
The 41-year-old leader, who in April was sworn in, was whisked away safely moments after the explosion.
It was an unusual attack in the Ethiopian capital, known to be among the safest on the continent. In an address on state-run television station later Saturday, Mr. Ahmed said the attack was “an attempt by forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united.”
Since taking power in Africa’s second-most populous country, Mr. Ahmed has announced the partial privatization of prized state assets, such as the national telecommunications company, and set out a plan to end a decadeslong border dispute with neighboring Eritrea.
He came to power with a message of national unity after more than two years of violent ethnic discord and is a member of the largest but most marginalized ethnic group in the country.