Mnangagwa’s worst British nightmare

Emmerson Mnangagwa

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s quest to re-engage the international community suffered a severe blow this week after his key Western backer Britain expressed support for additional European sanctions on Harare and revoked a pledge to assist Zimbabwe’s efforts to re-join the Commonwealth, as condemnation of a brutal military crackdown on civilians gathered momentum.

Nyasha Chingono/Lisa Tazviinga

Mnangagwa, who won a disputed presidential election last year that was marred by the killing of six protestors, has been on a charm offensive to convince the international community that Zimbabwe has embraced a reformist agenda, after decades of repressive rule under Robert Mugabe.

This comes as the British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, opened up on the stormy situation in the country.

In a post on Twitter yesterday, Robinson said she had engaged government over the state of affairs in Harare and expressed Britain’s disappointment with the slow pace of political and economic reforms to Finance minister Mthuli Ncube.

“I paid an introductory call on Finance minister Mthuli Ncube yesterday. Frank and constructive exchange on the economic and political reforms Zimbabwe urgently needs if it is to get back on track with re-engagement,” Robinson said.

Her comments confirm Britain’s view that Zimbabwe’s re-engagement project is going off the rails. Britain’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, this week told British parliamentarians that Zimbabwe’s former colonial master would support an extension of European Union sanctions against the troubled country and will not back Harare’s plan to return to the Commonwealth.

“Specifically with regard to sanctions . . . I think that since the recent developments there might be a case for widening it to include further individuals,” Baldwin said.

She expressed dissatisfaction with Mnangagwa’s failure to act on badly needed political and economic reforms. In the aftermath of last month’s bloody military crackdown, the President said any soldier found to have committed crimes would be brought to book.

“We have been aware that the President has said that heads will roll. We haven’t seen any specific heads rolling,” she said.

On a financial bailout, Baldwin said: “We are a long way from that and we have gone further away as a result of use of violence by the security forces.”

Baldwin last year promised to support Harare’s return to the Commonwealth. Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the club of mostly former British colonies in 2003 after the bloc condemned the callous killings of white farmers at the height of land reforms and presidential polls marred by violence.

“As of today, the UK would not be able to support this application because we don’t believe that the kinds of human rights violations that we are seeing from security forces in Zimbabwe are the kind of behaviour that you would expect to see from a Commonwealth country,” she told the committee.

Britain this week threatened more punitive measures, including adding more names on the sanctions list, saying until soldiers who killed civilians are brought to book, no financial assistance would be rendered to Zimbabwe.

Behind the scenes, the UK has been campaigning for Zimbabwe’s debt clearance plan and mediating with international financial institutions to support a bailout for Zimbabwe.

The UK last year teamed up with Standard Chartered Bank and advanced a US$100 million facility to Zimbabwean companies, the first such direct commercial loan to the southern African nation’s private sector in more than 20 years. The loan was seen as the biggest gesture of cordial diplomatic relations after UK-Zimbabwe relationship soured in the early 2000s.

Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe in November 2017 after a military coup, has been under pressure to institute a raft of political and economic reforms.

Apart from the US$100 million support from the UK government, a London-based emerging market fund — Gemcorp Group — extended a US$250 million loan to Zimbabwe to help the country import essential supplies like fuel and medicine. The facility went a long way in easing fuel shortages in the country.

Prior to the army killings of protestors, Britain was also a critical ally in the crafting of the country’s debt clearance plan presented by Ncube in Bali Indonesia last year.

The arrears clearance programme was widely endorsed by international financial institutions (IFIs).

Reports of rape and savage killings of unarmed civilians by the army have strained the diplomatic ties between the two countries.

These developments also come amid information that the EU, a major market for Zimbabwean agricultural products and potential source of investment, is also considering fresh sanctions on Harare. Without the support of Britain, Zimbabwe’s efforts to reposition itself on the international stage are facing a major reversal. The latest killing of at least 12 protestors has been met with condemnation in the international community.

Government stands accused of dragging its feet in investigating the murder of protestors. But the EU ambassador to Harare, Timo Olkkonen, told the Independent yesterday the bloc was yet to deliberate on the Zimbabwean situation. Gruesome human rights violations during the chaotic land reform programme at the turn of the millennium saw the bloc team up with other powers to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.

“Recent events coupled with slow pace of reforms are likely to result in declining investor confidence in the country,” said Olkkonen.

“The implementation of much-needed political and economic reforms remains crucial. Zimbabwe’s efforts to promote investment and to deepen international partnerships can only be successful if these essential requirements are fulfilled. The European Union has committed itself to support the Zimbabwean government in this endeavour.

However, this requires sincere commitment and active steps towards the implementation, not only positive policy statements and documents. We expect government to make this a priority going forward,” he added.

Olkkonen also urged Mnangagwa’s administration to thoroughly investigate reports of human rights violations and implement recommendations made by the commission of inquiry into the August 1 2018 killings.

“We also expect the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths and abuses over the last days. In this context, the recommendations made recently by the commission of inquiry on post-election violence are particularly relevant and require urgent implementation,” Olkkonen said.

In response to the Independent’s enquiries this week, University of London professor of world politics Stephen Chan, who earlier this week presented expert evidence to British legislators alongside Baldwin and the head of Department for International Development (DFID) Zimbabwe, Annabel Gerry, said government’s debt clearance plan had not proposed new policies to warrant fresh engagement with the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral lenders.

“As for clearance of debt arrears internationally, there would seem to be unanimous international agreement that Zimbabwe must re-engage fully with the IMF, meaning the Lima Programme of debt repayment and debt management. I believe even the Chinese, behind the scenes, agree to this. However, the government of Zimbabwe has proposed no new policies or measures whereby it might re-engage with the IMF under the Lima schedule. Basically, for the past 18 years, Zimbabwe has financed itself by borrowing. Now no one will lend Zimbabwe any more substantial funds,” Chan told the Independent this week.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Lawrence Mhandara said Britain remains a key factor in Zimbabwe’s foreign policy.

“After the events of 1 August 2018 and January 2019, the UK has been hesitant to embrace Mnangagwa’s government, hence the poignant conclusion that it would not back the readmission of Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth nor its debt clearance plan. The implication is simple: Britain has once again set the agenda for the international community’s terms of engagement with Zimbabwe,” Mhandara said.

“The doors of re-engagement with the West are shut because Britain has changed its attitude. Its opinion on Zimbabwe matters and the rest in the Western hemisphere will be cajoled to act in solidarity with the former colonial master.”

A grouping of human rights organisations coalescing under the banner of the Human Rights NGO Forum released its own findings this week, suggesting that more people were killed by the military in protests than officially acknowledged.

The report, which follows investigations by the forum, says up to 17 people were shot dead instead of the initial figures of 12 the state gave. “To date, the violations include at least 17 extra-judicial killings, 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including dog bites, 954 arrests and detention (including dragnet arrests), among other violations,” the report reads. – The Zimbabwe Independent