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Empire leads new scramble

The scramble for Zimbabwe has begun. Western and Eastern nations are locked in a frenetic race to grab the mouth-watering economic opportunities presented by a country whose dramatic return from international isolation has gripped the imagination of the world.

Editor’s Memo,Brezhnev Malaba

From hopeless failed state to irresistible frontier jewel, the transformation is promising to be quite remarkable. Today, a billionaire sitting in London, Moscow, Shanghai or New York and scouring the planet for investment ideas cannot ignore Zimbabwe.

Consider this: a British minister arrived in Harare yesterday and her itinerary shows she means business. The Russian Foreign minister is on his way. Not to be left out, the United States embassy in Harare yesterday announced that “high-level” American visitors are headed for Zimbabwe. Taking the frenzy a gear up, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry K Thomas Jr, is waxing lyrical, saying he adores this country so much that he wants to stay here after retirement.

Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang says “economics is 95% common sense”. From that viewpoint, these foreign governments are simply making hay while the sun shines.

At about mid-day yesterday, Britain’s newly appointed minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, touched down at Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare on a visit whose symbolism cannot be downplayed.

This is the second British ministerial visit to Harare since President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration in November.

Baldwin’s predecessor, Rory Stewart, met the president a few hours after his inauguration on November 24.

Baldwin, a Conservative Party legislator, was appointed to her cabinet post barely a fortnight ago. Within those few days, she has chosen Zimbabwe as her first African destination. From an international relations perspective, her visit affords us a deeper understanding into Britain’s shifting foreign policy stance towards Zimbabwe. Post-Brexit Britain is desperate for economic opportunities.

Soon after arrival, she visited St Giles, an institution which educates children with disabilities. She later met Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, business leaders and representatives of civil society.

For almost two decades, Zimbabwe and Britain have been at loggerheads. The relationship has been fraught with immense difficulties as both sides dug in and took extreme positions.

Nick Westcott, the director of Britain’s Royal African Society, is advancing a compelling argument this week. In 2018, elections are due in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. He says by far “the most interesting election” this year is likely to be in Zimbabwe.

“The critical question here will not be who wins but how they win. Many have argued that President Mugabe’s removal was primarily orchestrated to preserve the Zanu PF old guard’s grip on power,” he notes.

Mnangagwa has repeatedly promised to ensure a free, fair and credible election. Significantly, the international community is beginning to ask tough questions: Can he be trusted? Is he capable of respecting the tenets of democracy? The whole debate reminds me of Christopher Hitchens’ immortal words: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Talk is cheap. All indications on the ground currently point to yet another discredited and disputed election.

When a Russian publication, Sputnik, asked Mnangagwa what his government is doing to embrace much-needed reforms ahead of the general elections, he retorted: “What reforms? Everyone who turns the age of 18 is allowed to vote, so I don’t want us to reduce it to 16.” Is Mnangagwa suggesting he has no idea what “electoral reforms” are? That would be scandalous. Not so long ago, he was in charge of the Justice ministry which handles electoral matters. More than anyone else in Zanu PF, Mnangagwa ought to be aware of the dire repercussions of a sham election.

It is fine and dandy to entice foreign investors and long-lost political pals, but commentator Alex Magaisa says in this new scramble for Zimbabwe, we must exercise vigilance.

“We all know what happened the last time Zimbabwe was everyone’s favourite. Everyone turned a blind eye and today we are still grappling with the atrocities of that era of false bliss in the 1980s. It’s great for us to be attracting the big boys again but let’s be vigilant,” says Magaisa.

Tellingly, while British minister Baldwin was enjoying tea with Moyo in the air-conditioned offices of Munhumutapa Building, suspected political thugs were pelting opposition leader Joice Mujuru’s campaign team with stones in Glen Norah suburb.

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