Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

Harare — As Robert Mugabe’s state security minister in 1980‚ President Emmerson Mnangagwa had front row exposure to relations between Zimbabwe and its former coloniser, Britain.

In his short time as president, he has gone all out to mend fences. Last week, Harare dispatched foreign affairs and international trade minister‚ retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo‚ to London for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

At a similar meeting on November 19 2003‚ Mugabe announced Zimbabwe’s departure from the bloc because of the UK’s stance on Zimbabwe’s land reform policy, and increasing political intolerance under his rule. Even with relations being frosty under Mugabe‚ Zimbabwe received nearly £100m in foreign aid a year from the UK‚ albeit through NGOs.

Now‚ with the hope of getting one foot back into the Commonwealth and more aid from the UK‚ Moyo was given a platform on the sidelines of the meeting last week. "Our national ethos impels us to seek full re-admission into the Commonwealth‚ whose amity‚ values and ethics we share‚ and to reclaim our place in the international community to which we rightly belong‚" Moyo said at a luncheon in London during his visit.

However‚ Moyo’s charm offensive in Britain yielded the same old results: Zimbabwe needs to reform unconditionally. This is the same message the new dispensation got from the US when senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons arrived in Harare early in April.

After Moyo’s meeting with UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson‚ the official UK government’s statement centred on the restoration of democracy and human rights before re-engaging Zimbabwe.

"July’s election will be a bellwether for the direction of a new Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government must deliver the free and fair elections the people of Zimbabwe deserve and which it has promised. The UK stands ready in friendship to support a Zimbabwe that fully embraces the rule of law‚ human rights and economic reform‚" Johnson said.

The country is inching closer to elections in which Mnangagwa hopes to legitimise his rule‚ having come into power through military assistance. Part of his election rallying point has been his attempt to reconnect with the world with the message that "Zimbabwe is open for business". Speaking at a church gathering‚ which is normally turned into a political rally during Zimbabwe’s political high season‚ Mnangagwa said the differences between the two countries had been ironed out.

"Our quarrel with Britain is over‚" he told worshippers at the Johane Masowe YeChishanu Vadzidzi VaJesu Church. He went on to speak about how foreign dignitaries had warmed to him. "I have received three envoys from Britain‚ while we have had delegations from Western countries paying courtesy calls on us."

Analysts say the West will only engage Zimbabwe after free and fair elections‚ which Mnangagwa is promising. However‚ opposition politicians feel the country will go for elections without proper reforms because the ruling Zanu-PF party uses the uneven playing field to its advantage.