Addressing ruling Zanu-PF party supporters soon after landing at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Mnangagwa braggingly said he met several influential leaders at the COP26 summit, among them United States President Joe Biden during a banquet organised by the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
He claimed that the United Kingdom, which imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, had invited him to the summit after realising that his government was progressing well even without their input, saying this confirmed London’s new drive to re-engage with Harare after Brexit.
Mngangagwa told his supporters that he also had occasion to meet with heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II’s son, who failed to engage meaningfully with him in genuine political dialogue.
“Last year, there was a global summit in Britain, but Zimbabwe was not invited and we told them to build their own country and we build ours,” he said.
“But this year, they decided to re-engage us. They then realised that whether they invited us or not, we are progressing well here. When I met him (British Prime Minister Boris Johnson), I vowed that I would not extend my greeting first. He did extend his hand first and he smiled and smiled. Later on, there was a party that was hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and attended by heads of State only. I was invited. I went there with my friend Uhuru Kenyata.
“The Queen was not feeling well but she sent her son Prince Charles and grandson Prince William. I introduced myself to Prince Charles and asked him why he hadn’t visited Zimbabwe 40 years after he lowered the Union Jack to see the progress we have achieved. I then realised that he could not talk genuine politics, and I decided to engage on issues to do with hunting.”
Mnangagwa said Biden took the initiative to introduce himself when they met at the queen’s banquet.
“I asked him what wrong we had done to his people. I questioned him over what kind of democracy his country was exhibiting when they put people on trial without meeting them. He then summoned his staffer, whom he tasked to schedule a meeting with me later. I then told him, ‘You have done right, and you may go.”
He said when he met European Union Council president Charles Michel, he told him in the face that the EU had been incited by the British to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba claimed on his @Jamwanda2 Twitter handle that the West had come to terms with the fact that the land reform programme was irreversible.
“What adds to the rousing welcome is the fact that this is the first time a Zimbabwean leader steps on UK soil ever since the standoff between Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom and the West over recovery of the Zimbabwe heritage through the iconic land reform programme,” he tweeted.
“Zimbabwe stood steadfast, maintaining its heritage was non-negotiable. Seeing the resolve and determination, even amidst crippling illegal sanctions, countries of the West, the UK included, are beginning to accept that the land reform programme is irrevocable, with its reversal being made a precondition for re-engagement and normalisation of relations.”
In July 2020, government inked a US3,5 billion compensation deal with white former commercial farmers for improvements on the land they lost during the 2000 land reform programme.
But observers yesterday rubbished Mnangagwa’s so-called “fruitful” re-engagement with Western leaders, saying all those efforts would come to naught as long as the Zanu-PF leader failed to implement genuine political and economic reforms necessary to end the country’s international isolation.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said Mnangagwa could not measure success of his engagement efforts using the occasion of the meeting he had, but with the results which included lifting of sanctions.
“Mnangagwa has so much to produce as evidence of engagement which is pictures of him shaking hands with powerful leaders, but real evidence of the success of his engagement is yet to be seen,” he said.
“For Mnangagwa and his government, the measure of success is the occasion of him meeting the presidents, but if there were no tangible results from the meeting, then it was a waste of time. Ending Zimbabwe’s isolation on the international arena depends on a number of issues. It depends on whether Mnangagwa is really committed to implement the reforms that will improve foreign relations.”
Another political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said the climate change summit was a talk show and there was no great achievement in attending such a meeting, but it had enabled Mnangagwa to meet leaders who “matter” the most.
“Although the COP26 gave Mnangagwa an opportunity to meet leaders who matter for the progress of the Zimbabwe welfare, it does not necessarily correspond with the expenditure,” Mukundu said.
“If the President is really committed to turn around the economy, he should reform first on the use of resources. Zambia had similar engagements at the summit, but at a smaller cost to Zimbabwe by far. The President might have successfully engaged other influential leaders, but the question is: will it lead to change of his behaviour on issues of governance? Are we going to have credible elections that will warrant removal of sanctions and end the frosty relations between Zimbabwe and other Western countries?”
Mnangagwa’s trip to the UK has been marred by wide public criticism over his US$1 million flight on an Azerbaijan airbus and taking with him over 100 delegates to Scotland.
But Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development programmes manager John Maketo said although the expenditure was unjustified, it was necessary for the President to attend the summit.
“It was necessary for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to attend the COP26 summit because the country is battling the effects of climate change,” he said.
“We need solutions on adapting to climate and for him to attend such a high level event, it is a success. However, there is need for justification of the delegation he travelled with, at a time when the resources are not enough to cater for public services. There is need for government to implement cost-cutting measures on its expenditure. The excess expenditure on the Scotland trip becomes an issue of concern when we compare it with other countries, Zambia for instance.”