British envoy bids President farewell

President Mnangagwa welcomes the outgoing British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing at State House in Harare yesterday

HARARE – Zimbabwe and Britain have developed trust and mutual respect, paving way for normalisation of relations, outgoing British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Ms Catriona Laing has said.

Ambassador Laing yesterday paid a departure call on President Mnangagwa at State House in Harare, ending her four-year tenure in Zimbabwe.

The envoy said her main business was building a relationship with Government, but she also spoke to the opposition.

“I have been here for four years and its been certainly been a monumental and very exciting (and) interesting time to be here,” she said after a closed door meeting that lasted half an hour.

“I think we built a professional working relationship based on trust with the Government, which is what we need on both sides in order to listen to each other.

“We need to have that trust so that I can have frank conversations and use that access to have influence. That’s what diplomats do all over the world, it’s nothing unusual in Zimbabwe and that’s what my fellow ambassadors do,” she explained.

Ambassador Laing was instrumental in thawing relations between London and Harare.

She explained that Britain had laid out a plan to re-engage Zimbabwe regardless of who was in power and she dismissed the notion that she was partial to the ruling party to the disadvantage of the opposition.

“To the opposition I have been very clear with them that the pathway that we have set out for Zimbabwe to return to normal international relations would be open to any government in Zimbabwe and if the opposition had won the election it would have been Nelson Chamisa I would now be paying a departure call on,” said she.

“I have a good cordial relationship with him and haven’t had any problems at that level. It is the same pathway, but they are an opposition rather than in Government. My main relationship is with the Government, but I spent a lot of time listening and talking to the opposition and understanding their concerns and indeed relaying their concerns to Government to help their voice be heard,” she added.

Ambassador Laing, fielding a question from a journalist, batted away “absurd rumours” that Britain was controlling the administration of President Mnangagwa.

“I’m a diplomat representing my country. The Government of Zimbabwe is running this (country). I have a relationship with them as a representative of Her Majesty’s government and I hope we have a constructive relationship and one based on mutual respect.”

Ambassador Laing was posted to Zimbabwe in September 2014 and will begin her new tenure as British High Commissioner to Nigeria on November 1.

She is being replaced by Ms Melanie Robinson with effect from January next year. – Herald