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Editor’s Memo

‘Don’t give up’

I HAVE in recent weeks said goodbye to a number of ambassadors who have served their countries with distinction in Harare under very trying circumstances.

ca, sans-serif”>They include Javier Sandomingo of Spain and Peter Schmidt of Germany who both did much to ensure the European Union spoke with one clear voice on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

Peter left last weekend and will soon take up the reins at the German embassy in Tunis. He speaks fluent Arabic which should help him settle in to his new post.

Peter invariably managed to put together at his functions a broad cross-section of Zimbabweans – and Germans – who could meet and discuss the country’s problems in a cordial atmosphere. Very often his efforts to improve relations with his hosts, such as encouraging ties between Harare and Munich, were thwarted by political obduracy.

Javier and his New Zealand-born wife Megan did much to raise Spain’s profile in this country but, like so many other long-established diplomats, witnessed with sadness the country’s decline.

Javier spoke at a Spanish national day function over a year ago of his country’s experience: an isolated fascist dictatorship cut off from the prosperity of its neighbours and locked in the mantras of the past. But, upon the departure of its dictator and restoration of democracy, it quickly became a modern and prosperous nation at the heart of Europe.

Now we are preparing to say goodbye to Sir Brian Donnelly who leaves for the UK soon after a three-year tour of duty with his wife Julia. As he pointed out at his farewell party last Friday, which was held in tandem with the Queen’s Birthday, he is the only British high commissioner here who has been transformed overnight into an ambassador, following Zimbabwe’s departure from the Commonwealth.

Sir Brian spoke of the frustrations successive British envoys have experienced in dealing with their host government.

He quoted from a predecessor: “There is a deep suspicion and even conviction that the British government is determined to undermine and overthrow the elected government and that the high commissioner is the chosen instrument to achieve this.”

That was Lord Alport, high commissioner from 1961/3, speaking of his vexed relationship with Sir Roy Welensky’s federal government.

“So nothing much has changed,” Sir Brian observed to laughter from the large throng gathered on the lawns of his official residence in Chisipite.

“We were both sent here to persuade a sitting government to give its opponents a fair chance to express their opinions and to face up to the need for radical change if this country was to ensure prosperity and a harmonious future,” he said. “Unfortunately that message was as unwelcome in 2001 when I tried to deliver it on my arrival as it had been in 1961 when Lord Alport, as Harold Macmillan’s representative, was trying to give practical effect to Macmillan’s winds of change speech. And, as is often the case, it is the messenger who gets the blame.”

Echoing Australian ambassador Jonathan Brown who left in April, Sir Brian spoke of the people he had seen both in communal areas and towns struggling to eke out an existence “and being offered ideological panaceas instead of sustainable development programmes”.

“We have seen people who have suffered physically and emotionally simply for standing up for their civil rights,” he added.

But democracy, he pointed out, as elections in India and Europe had recently demonstrated, had a wonderful way of biting back at those in power when they least want it to.

His critics have suggested he was sent here to effect regime change, or “do a Milosovic”, he reminded us. But they had not done their homework.

“When I left Yugoslavia in 1999 Milosovic remained firmly in power and apparently invulnerable to democratic challenge,” Sir Brian said.

“His downfall came only several months later when he tried to steal one election too many. And then it was not any single ambassador, or even any foreign government that was responsible. It was the Yugoslav people who simply decided that they had had enough.

“So my final message to all Zimbabweans who want to see political tolerance and economic prosperity restored in this country is simply this: Do not give up hope now. The tide of democracy will prevail.”

Whatever the views of our hostile leaders, Zimbabweans will wish Brian and Julia all the best for the future. We admire diplomats who speak up for democratic governance and the rule of law.

The new ambassador is Dr Rod Pullen who was until recently high commissioner to Ghana. He will therefore know something about autocratic African states obliged by their people to undergo the transformation to democracy and recovery!

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