Zimbabwe, UK relations hit top gear

Harriet Matthews and Mnangagwa

Britain’s top Foreign and Commonwealth Office official dealing with Africa Mrs Harriet Matthews is on a visit to Zimbabwe to assess progress in reform and yesterday delivered a special message from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to President Mnangagwa.

She also promised further British help in augmenting Zimbabwe’s efforts in humanitarian aid to those affected by drought.

Mrs Matthews, is the Director for Africa in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was accompanied by Ms Debbie Palmer, the Director for West and Southern Africa in the UK’s Department for International Development and the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mrs Melanie Robinson. No details of the discussions or the content of the special mesage were made public.

But in an interview after the courtesy call, Zimbabwean Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary, Ambassador James Manzou, said the visit was the latest step in the re-engagement process and was important for both Zimbabwe and Britain.

Mrs Matthews said the two senior officials had come to observe the situation in Zimbabwe and had talked to a wide range of people.

“The two of us have come here for a number of reasons: first of all the UK government and the Prime Minister are following what is happening in Zimbabwe so we are going back to tell (him) what we have seen on the political front, the economic front and the humanitarian front,” she said.

She added that they had frank discussions with President Mnangagwa and had also met the opposition and civil society organisations during their visit.

“So the first thing, I think is a call for a step up in reforms in particular the human rights and on corruption. The second thing is to stress that the UK is a very close friend of Zimbabwe and the

Zimbabwe people and we want the country to succeed and one of the things we have seen and have been concerned about, is the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“For example, 50 percent of the population are going to need food assistance, so the UK is going to step up its work in that area and we also hope the Government will also step up to that situation,” said Mrs Matthews.

Ambassador Manzou noted that Mrs Matthews was the latest British envoy in the re-engagement process launched with the establishment of the new dispensation in 2017.

“Mrs Harriet Matthews is one among a number of envoys that have come to Zimbabwe since we started the re-engagement process and it is an indication of the continued re-engagement between Zimbabwe and the UK and such re-engagement is important for both sides to understand one another, and so we value this special visit,” said Ambassador Manzou.

He also thanked Britain for humanitarian support. “We also value the support that the British have given us in terms of humanitarian support through the Department for International

Development and this is something that has continued despite the differences we have had over the years with the British,” he said.

A number of British envoys have met President Mnangagwa since he came into office in 2017. The first was the then British Minister for Africa, Rory Stewart, who met President Mnangagwa a few hours after his inauguration on November 24, 2017.

He was followed by Sir Simon Gerard McDonald, who is Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service, while the then Minister for Africa and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development, Ms Harriet Baldwin also visited last year.
Government is already implementing a raft of reforms to encourage investment and entrench democratic principles and personal freedoms.

But Government has said the reforms have to follow due process as required by law.

Former Zimbabwe Ambassador to China, Chris Mutsvangwa said the visit was an indication that the re-engagement policy was succeeding.

“Clearly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in a hurry to usher in a more positive and exciting chapter in London-Harare links,” he said.

“This is yet another significant indication that the re-engagement policy of President Mnangagwa is on the verge of delivering bountiful prospects.

“The Second Republic is clearly poised to deliver the brightest future for Zimbabwe’s populace. Brexit is giving London a chance to revive and revitalise historical links; this time with the tantalising appeal of shared prosperity.”

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade Cde Kindness Paradza said the coming of PM Johnson’s envoy was “a very positive sign in mending our relations with the British”.

“The President’s foreign policy is very clear, engage and re-engage and that Zimbabwe is now open for business. He is walking the talk.

“So as Parliament, we are encouraged by this, hence we have also launched our own Parliamentary Diplomacy to complement these efforts from the Executive. I hope that very soon we will also be meeting our counterparts in London to have a conversation around normalising our relations with our erstwhile colonisers.”

Political analyst, Mr Goodwine Mureriwa said; “Zimbabwe is open for business and is sincere on political and economic reforms that are critical for engagement and re-engagement trajectories of our new foreign policy.

“On the other hand, following Brexit, Britain inevitably has to sober up and thaw relations with strategic countries like Zimbabwe, which is endowed with vast mineral resources and investment opportunities.

“Mutual relations bring positive sum outcomes. They (British) are being realistic and one hopes they have genuinely accepted President Mnangagwa’s hand of friendship to pave the way for removal of sanctions and cooperation for collective gains.” – Herald