LONDON – British government Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson signalled his support for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth as Robert Mugabe resigned as the country’s president.
According to The Telegraph, the Foreign Secretary backed the “fine and noble aspiration” but stressed the African nation had much to do to restore its international reputation before it could be welcomed back.
Mr Mugabe’s decision to quit after almost 40 years in charge was greeted with scenes of jubilation on the streets of Harare and paved the way for the country’s rehabilitation on the world stage.
Zimbabwe, which had been a member of the Commonwealth since its independence in 1980, was suspended in 2002 after a presidential election which was widely viewed as being seriously flawed.
Mr Mugabe then withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in 2003 after the country’s suspension was extended.
Mr Johnson was pressed by Tory former minister Sir Hugo Swire in the House of Commons to bring Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth.
The Foreign Secretary suggested he would be open to such an eventuality but that Zimbabwe would need to demonstrate a commitment on issues like human rights before it could return.
Mr Johnson said: “He rightly sets out what I think would be a fine and noble aspiration, both for the Commonwealth and for Zimbabwe.
“But of course, I must caution him that several steps need to be gone through before that can happen.
“There must be free and fair elections next year, it then falls to Zimbabwe to apply to the Commonwealth Secretariat and then to make clear to the Commonwealth and to the world that Zimbabwe fulfils the criteria on human rights, on rule of law, on democracy, that are necessary for Commonwealth membership.”
Mr Johnson said in a statement issued after the leader’s resignation that he would “not pretend to regret Mugabe’s downfall” but that it could be a “turning point” for a country “full of potential”.
He said: “The immediate priority is to ensure that Zimbabwe has a legitimate government, appointed through free and fair elections in accordance with the constitution.