By Idah Mhetu
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is on course for a return to the Commonwealth of nations, the country’s ambassador to the United Kingdom Christian Katsande has said.
Katsande told State media in an interview that new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rise to power to occupy the iconic 10 Dawning Street could help speed up the process and strengthen relations between Harare and London, strained by years of former President Robert Mugabe’s isolationist policies.
“You will recall that I made reference to the visit by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Sibusiso Moyo) and that time, then British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson hosted him and a group of foreign ministers from the Commonwealth.
“I believe that journey is on course. I believe the recent changes with the Prime Minister being Boris Johnson bodes well for the continuing efforts that we have to fulfill the intentions that we have,” Katsande was quoted as having said.
Since taking over power from Mugabe on the back of a military coup in November 2017 and winning controversial elections last year, Mnangagwa has promised reforms and to anchor his government on returning Zimbabwe to the international fold.
Mugabe angrily pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in 2003 after the country got suspended from the elite club of mainly former British colonies, on accusations of human rights abuses and poll theft.
The then Zanu PF leader had sponsored the compulsory acquisition of land driving out white commercial farmers, in the process, wreaking the country’s agriculture then the backbone of the economy.
Katsande said relations between Harare and London had improved since Mnangagwa took over.
“I would say we have seen over the past 12 months the strengthening of bilateral relations with the UK government. There have been exchange of ministerial visits and correspondents at the highest level between His Excellency (Mnangagwa) and Her Majesty the Queen as well as the Prime Minister(s),” he said.
Britain is on the verge of splitting from the European Union (EU) and Mnangagwa believes Johnson’s government might want to create new partnerships and Zimbabwe is well poised. Mnangagwa has also been trying to woo bank international finance institutions including the World Bank and the IMF with a little success after the global money-lenders endorsed his reform agenda.
However, Western powers have not hidden their displeasure at Mnangagwa’s handling of protests and dissent in Zimbabwe given over 20 people have already been gunned down by the army since last year’s disputed election and numerous reports of abductions and torture
Mnangagwa has also banned protests planned by the opposition MDC drawing condemnation from powerful countries.