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Zimbabwe's President Is Out After Nearly Forty Years — Here's What You Need To Know

After 37 years in power and a military takeover, the 93-year-old finally stepped down via letter.

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There's a jubilant mood in Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe, the country's president for the last nearly four decades, finally resigned — but there's still a lot of concern about the guy who's taking his place.

Mugabe stepping down came a week after the longtime president was put under house arrest by the country's military and several false starts where it looked like his time in power was done.

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After effectively taking control of the country, the Zimbabwean army insisted that it wasn't launching a coup — they went on state-run television in the early morning hours to say as much.

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Instead, they said the military was targeting "criminals" around Mugabe.

Since its independence from the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe has never known a time without Mugabe in office. In 1980, Mugabe took office as prime minister in the southern African country formerly known as Rhodesia. He was elected president in 1987 and held onto power since then.

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Since the fall of the white minority government, Mugabe's ZANU–PF party has had nearly total control over the politics inside the country.

Despite claims of rigged elections in 1996, Mugabe was fairly popular internationally. That is until 2000, when he decided that if the United Kingdom wouldn't pay reparations for years of repression, he'd seize white-owned farms for redistribution.

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That policy led to the production of Zimbabwe's farms plummeting, causing food shortages in what was once known as the "breadbasket of Africa." That plus a host of international sanctions on Mugabe led to the country's economy collapsing and hyperinflation pushing prices higher and higher inside the country. In time, the country found itself eventually forced to print $100 trillion bills.

Alongside the economic crisis, Mugabe's government increased its repression of political and human rights. The 2008 presidential elections saw Mugabe in a runoff with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai — and things did not go well.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

Mass protests hit the streets against Mugabe, even as police beat any dissenters during the campaign. In the end, Tsvangirai and Mugabe found themselves in a power-sharing agreement to end the bloodshed — but human rights violations went unpunished.

In the 2013 rematch between the two, controversially Mugabe won by some 900,000 votes, despite irregularities that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission pointed out.

Throughout it all, Mugabe has stayed in favor with his fellow leaders throughout Africa, denouncing the West's interference in their countries and supporting his fellow leaders who had overstayed their mandates.

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Last year, the latest civilian challenge to Mugabe's heavy-handed rule sprung up in the form of the #ThisFlag movement.

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Inspired by a preacher who'd posted a video of himself on his Facebook, draped in the country's flag and denouncing the hardships its citizens have faced, Zimbabweans began carrying the flag everywhere in protest before the authorities shut it down.

All the while, the ZANU–PF has seemed to remain at least nominally unified even as the debate over who should come after Mugabe — but that was shattered last week when Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

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Mnangagwa, like Mugabe a leader in the Zimbabwean revolution, had been by the president's side over the last 40 years. His dismissal over vague accusations of "disloyalty" over that time didn't sit well with many in the country, especially members of the security services.

Nor did Mugabe's choice for Mnangagwa's successor — first lady Grace Mugabe.

Jekesai Njikizana / AFP / Getty Images

Grace, who is 40 years younger than Mugabe, has been high on the list of potential successors should the nonagenarian president either step down or die while in office. In 2014, she was bumped up to run the ZANU–PF's Women's League, giving her a seat on the party's ruling council and the party began to talk up how skilled a politician she is.

Grace has popularity among the Youth League of the ZANU–PF — and basically nowhere else in the country, as reports of her spending habits have given her the nickname "Gucci Grace."

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

Earlier this year, she got in trouble for allegedly assaulting a young woman in South Africa, needing to use diplomatic immunity to return home without going on trial. And in October, she had to deny that she was actually poisoning Mnangawawa.

Things escalated soon after, when Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Force, told the press that Mugabe needed to knock it off, a rare public rebuke.

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“It is with humility and effort that we come before you to pronounce the indisputable reality that there is instability in ZANU–PF,” Chiwenga said in a statement Monday, demanding that the president stop his purge. “Today it is observed anxiety in the country at large.”

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People throughout Harare, the capital city, began to worry on as tanks were spotted moving through the streets, though it was unclear at the time whether the movements were routine.

As events played out after the military takeover, there was relatively little understanding inside or outside the country of what happens next or just who the "criminals" that being targeted actually were.

Feeling less deterred than they have in years, thousands of people put aside their cautious optimism over the weekend and took to the streets to declare that Mugabe's time in power was over.

On Sunday evening, Mugabe addressed the nation in a speech that was widely expected to announce his resignation. Instead, he concluded the speech having done no such thing.

That proved to be the last straw for the ZANU-PF, who announced that unless Mugabe handed over power, they would begin impeachment proceedings.

Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images

They also removed Mugabe from the head of the party, instead replacing him with Mnangagwa for the time being.

Then, on Tuesday, more than a day after the deadline his party had set and just as impeachment proceedings were beginning, parliament received a letter from Mugabe announcing his resignation.

With Mugabe out of power and 71-year-old Mnangawa in — himself an accused human rights abuser — there's hope on the streets of Zimbabwe but what role the military will play moving forward and how next year's elections will take place remains to be seen.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

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