Mugabe evades diplomatic showdown

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe recently avoided an embarrassing diplomatic backlash by the European Union (EU) and its accession countries when he backtracked at the last minute on his threats to ex

pel British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Sir Brian Donnelly.


High-level sources this week said Mugabe wanted to throw out the crack British diplomat after the recent mass action that closed the country for five consecutive days.


Mugabe accused Sir Brian, who before coming to Harare was British ambassador to Belgrade when former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic fell from power, of co-ordinating mass action and undermining his rule.


Addressing a rally in Nyakomba in Nyanga on June 12, Mugabe warned that Sir Brian would be expelled if he continued interfering in the country’s internal affairs.


“This guy called Mr Donnelly, if he continues doing it, we will kick him out of this country,” Mugabe said.


Sources said Sir Brian’s expulsion would have led to the powerful 15-member bloc withdrawing its envoys from Harare in protest.


The EU’s accession countries – those nations waiting to join the group and mostly former Eastern bloc states – would also have been asked to follow suit.


Diplomatic sources said Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge prevented the diplomatic fallout by urging official restraint.


“Mugabe wanted to expel Donnelly but we understand Mudenge advised it would be counter-productive to do so,” a source said. “The EU countries would have recalled their ambassadors in retaliation.”


The EU has a common position on Zimbabwe’s current political and economic crisis. The group has imposed targeted sanctions and issued a series of statements condemning Mugabe’s regime.


Denmark, one of the key EU members, last year closed its embassy in Harare in protest against the prevailing situation.


Head of the European Commission Delegation, Francesca Mosca, was yesterday unavailable for comment. Mudenge could also not be reached.


Donnelly has been the principal target of Harare’s propaganda offensive since his arrival two years ago. Together with his Prime Minister Tony Blair, he has been accused of trying to help the MDC to oust Mugabe from power.


But Sir Brian has dismissed the officially contrived diplomatic clash between Harare and Lon-don as a “false fight” and “non-starter”.


In the latest edition of the Britain & Zimbabwe magazine, Sir Brian says the situation in the country has become untenable.


He said there was now “incontestable evidence of the disregard for basic democratic rights and freedoms” in Zimbabwe.


“With so many problems besetting Zimbabwe it is hard to know where to begin,” he said. “Food, fuel, foreign exchange, are all in desperately short supply. Millions of Zimbabweans are suffering as a result. HIV/Aids, a tragedy in itself, is interacting with the food shortages with devastating effects and threatens the collapse of the health and education sectors, as well as family structures,” he said.