EVIDENCE of Britain’s meddlesome support for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration and that he is their preferred choice to lead Zimbabwe after this year’s general elections in July is mounting after a series of recent events which have set London on a collision course with other global powers.
The latest developments have also infuriated local opposition parties, now calling out Britain and its ambassador in Harare Catriona Laing for their interference.
The British embassy in Harare and Laing have repeatedly denied the accusations.
This came as the United Kingdom (UK) and British multinational banking and financial services group Standard Chartered Bank Plc (StanChart) partnered to lend the Zimbabwean private sector US$100 million ahead of critical elections.
This is the first direct commercial loan to Zimbabwe by the UK in over two decades.
While the money is not going directly to government, it is widely seen as a vote of confidence by London for the Mnangagwa regime which came in after former president Robert Mugabe was toppled in a military coup ignored or tacitly accepted by Britain last November.
As first reported by the Zimbabwe Independent in its lead story on September 9, 2016, under the headline: Britain supports Mnangagwa bid, the UK has a grand plan tosteer Zimbabwe through its turbulent political transition led by Mnangagwa.
Britain supported the 2015 Lima Plan, which sought to provide a US$2 billion economic bailout underwriting the project.
It is said Britain wants the Rwandan model in Zimbabwe, centred more on political stability and economic recovery than democracy and human rights.
The British thinking on Zimbabwe is now that a politically stable and economically viable authoritarian state is better than a failing or failed one, diplomats say.
Detailed briefings with the Independent by diplomats this week showed the British were and are still of the view Mnangagwa is the real deal, as he has the stature, strong military backing and is decisive, as well as being pro-reform and pro-capital, hence the Rwandan authoritarianism model.
The Independent also reported this in 2016.
Rwanda has of late been helping out Zimbabwe with its transition and reforms.
Rwanda Development Board chief executive Clare Akamanzi was in Harare last month to share her country’s experiences at the request of Mnangagwa who wrote a letter to Kigali on March 29.
This followed Mnangagwa’s visit to Kigali for the African Union extraordinary summit on African Continental Free Trade.
Mnangagwa met Rwandan President Paul Kagame there.
StanChart, working together with the British government, has for some time been planning to bailout Zimbabwe.
The Independent on December 2, 2016, in an article headlined British bank rescues Mugabe, revealed how the bank had unexpectedly agreed to shell out US$262 million to rescue the bankrupt Harare regime which was desperate to raise US$1,8 billion to clear arrears to international financial institutions to secure US$2 billion in fresh funding under the Lima programme.
The Lima Plan was being pushed by the Mnangagwa faction in Zanu PF and government through Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, while the G40 group coalesced around former first lady Grace Mugabe resisted it.
Documents seen by the Independent at the time showed the British bank, which operates in 60 markets, including Zimbabwe, with over 1 000 branches and around 3 000 automated teller machines, wanted to pay half of the US$524 million — US$262 million — which Harare owed the African Development Bank.
The deal, which stalled after the Independent exposé, has now been remodelled and entails Britain, in partnership with the bank, providing US$100 million to Zimbabwean private companies.
Although Britain is still part of the European Union (EU), which has agreed to scale up funding to Harare only after free, fair and credible polls, London has gone against Brussels by funding Zimbabwe before the polls.
EU Head of Delegation to Harare Philippe Van Damme in January said the bloc would consider increasing assistance to Zimbabwe only if Mnangagwa delivers on credible polls first and reforms thereafter.
This position is shared by the United States.
US charge d’affaires to Zimbabwe Jennifer Savage said on Tuesday, after paying a courtesy call on Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda, that promises of free, fair and transparent elections alone are not enough.
“We are hearing the rights words and we need to see some action on those promises made,” she said.
While the EU and Australian have removed sanctions on Zimbabwe, the US and Canada have maintained them.
Washington DC has even reinforced them.
In February, the Independent reported sharp differences had emerged between Britain and its EU counterparts — particularly Germany and France — over the Zimbabwe situation ahead of elections.
The EU wants the Mnangagwa government to first earn a mandate and legitimacy through credible polls before getting full diplomatic and financial support.
International financial institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and African Development Bank, although engaging Harare, are also waiting for the elections.
Many investors are also doing the same.
China, like Britain, is supporting Mnangagwa as it seeks to maintain its gains and cement economic deals sealed with Zimbabwe during Harare and London’s protracted diplomatic tiff which began in 2000 when Mugabe launched violent and chaotic land seizures targeting white commercial farmers mainly of British descent.
Russia is also supporting the Mnangagwa administration, largely driven by its interest to tap into Zimbabwe’s rich natural resources primarily platinum.
Zimbabwe’s largest trade partner, South Africa, is sitting on the fence, diplomats say.
London has also been more than welcoming to Harare officials since the coup.
Chinamasa visited London in February and met Foreign minister Boris Johnson.
He also intended to visit Germany, but was blocked.
Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo was in London recently and was allowed to interact on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as he laid the ground for Zimbabwe’s return to the fold.
He also met Johnson.
Main opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa was there last week, but was subjected to severe criticism compared to Zimbabwe government officials by British think-tanks, opinion leaders and public service broadcaster, the BBC, which some scholars say is neither independent nor impartial.
After the coup, British Prime Minister Theresa May quickly dispatched an envoy to Zimbabwe, Rory Stewart, to lend support to Mnangagwa.
Stewart also attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration last November.
The UK’s minister for Africa for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development Harriet Baldwin also visited Harare in February.
Chamisa complained last week about Britain’s new approach on Zimbabwe.
“We have seen that there has been a bit of a shift on the part of the British government in terms of focussing more on political stability and trade and commerce at the expense of democracy.
But that is a false narrative, you can never have stability without democracy,” he said.
“We expect Britain and the EU to speak for free and fair elections.
There’s a very disturbing trend in the context of the British government in Zimbabwe.
We’re seeing the inclination to align with one political party against another.
That is disturbing, particularly in terms of the issue of just setting the basic standard for free and fair elections.”
The British embassy in Harare on Tuesday, however, denied supporting Mnangagwa following a Twitter storm with opposition activists and exiled ex-Information minister Jonathan Moyo.
“Our ambassador and senior members of the embassy team engage as often as is possible with officials from all main political parties in Zimbabwe.
Our priority is to promote human rights and democratic gains for the Zimbabwean people,” it said.
“We believe that respectful, frank engagement with both the ruling party and the opposition is far more likely to succeed than public grandstanding or engaging with only one side.
That’s what we’re doing.
We’re certainly not blind to Zimbabwe’s difficult past — or to many of the governance challenges that continue to be present today.
It’s totally up to Zimbabweans to decide who they want to govern them.”