How Britain shifted policy on Zimbabwe

Diplomats say frustrated by the lack of political gravitas on the part of the MDC-T, the former colonial power opted for a policy shift on Zimbabwe by focusing on change from within Zanu PF.

BRITAIN has shifted its foreign policy on Zimbabwe which was previously anchored on seeking to influence political change via opposition political parties, and is now pushing for change from within Zanu PF — the same template the West used to catalyse reform in the Soviet Union.

By Kudzai Kuwaza

Change in the Soviet Union was largely driven by Mikhail Gorbachev, a former general secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, who became head of state from 1988 until 1991, through his policy Perestroika: New thinking for my country and the world.

Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openess), as well as his reorientation of Soviet strategic aims contributed to the end of the Cold War.

Diplomats told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Britain and other Western governments lost faith in the country’s main opposition MDC-T after the party’s 2013 elections defeat amid failure to heed advice from regional leaders not to participate in the polls without ensuring that the Sadc election roadmap was implemented.

Stephen Chan and Julia Gallagher in their book Mugabe’s Last Stand: The 2013 Elections in Zimbabwe and their Aftermath, aptly sum up the frustration arising from the failings of the opposition party.

The British government, which had over the years supported the opposition party, was disappointed by the late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s blunders during the inclusive government era between 2009 and 2013, as well as the opposition’s failure to push for electoral reforms while in government.

Chan is close to the British government.

“Tsvangirai, it was clear from his time as prime minister, had ceased to be a thinkable president in 2013. His love affairs, his apparent lack of concern at the growing corruption of MDC representatives in national and local government, his inability to instill discipline on his party; none represented him as a good father figure, or president,” Chan and Gallagher write.

“The criticism of Tsvangirai and the MDC focus on the lack of capacity — the party didn’t have the resources to look after the electorate — weak leadership, and the sense of alienation engendered by what were seen as ‘foreign’ political priorities and campaigning methods.”

Unlike in 2008, where the MDC-T rolled out a multi-million dollar campaign which painted most parts of the country red, the 2013 campaign was not well-funded while Tsvangirai was dogged by controversy surrounding his personal life.

In off-the-record briefings with diplomats this week, it emerged that the lack of support which has extended to the 2018 polls, including the donor fatigue, has affected the country’s biggest opposition.

Sadc leaders in 2013 were not impressed by the MDC parties’ failure to push for the implementation of their resolutions ahead of the elections.

Diplomatic sources said in the run up to the 2013 elections, Sadc leaders felt the MDC leaders had become too comfortable in government, forgetting their presence was meant to create an environment conducive for credible, free and fair elections.

At the time, one Sadc diplomat said: “Sadc has done a lot for Zimbabwe.

“We have been firm and resolute, but we are disappointed with the MDC parties which have not been pushing strongly enough for the necessary reforms that would allow for free and fair elections.

“Resolution after resolution has been adopted by Sadc but up to now, the three parties in the inclusive government have chosen to ignore them. These resolutions are very clear and there are even timelines to them, but months before critical elections little has been implemented.

“What more do you want Sadc to do? Nothing is being implemented and the parties that are supposed to be pushing are quiet and focussing on the constitution and referendum. How about other reforms?”

At the Windhoek summit in 2010, Sadc leaders adopted a report by South African President Jacob Zuma, which called for implementation of 24 agreed GPA items to lay the basis for free and fair elections.

These included media reforms, security sector reforms on a continuous basis, regularisation of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, appointment of a new Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation board and a re-constitution of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust, all within a month.

However, most of the reforms were not implemented.

After Zanu PF’s landslide in 2013, Britain, which backed the opposition following the 2000 chaotic land reform programme in which thousands of white commercial farmers lost land to blacks, shifted its stance on Zimbabwe.

Diplomats say frustrated by the lack of political gravitas on the part of the MDC-T, the former colonial power opted for a policy shift on Zimbabwe by focusing on change from within Zanu PF.

Thus began the relationship with Mnangagwa whom they believe is strong not only because of his strong links with the military, but also his perceived pro-business disposition.

“The British want a strongman in Zimbabwe just like Paul Kagame in Rwanda, hence soon after the 2013 polls their policy on Zimbabwe shifted,” a diplomat said.

5 thoughts on “How Britain shifted policy on Zimbabwe”

  1. Madhara. says:

    Lack of seriousness on the part of Chamisa Is Not Helping Either.

    1. Wilbert Mukori says:

      Chamisa and his fellow MDC leaders have already proven that they are corrupt and incompetent the trouble here is that some people do not want to accept that and so expect blood from a stone!

  2. Wilbert Mukori says:

    The most important point here which many are missing is that neither Zanu PF nor MDC are going to get this country out of the mess they landed it in!

    The MDC leaders are corrupt and incompetent, that is now a matter of historic record and there is a mountain of evidence to prove it.

    What is also a matter of historic record is that Zanu PF leaders are corrupt, incompetent and ruthless thugs. The British may think Emmerson Mnangagwa “strong not only because of his strong links with the military, but also his perceived pro-business disposition”; at least compared to all the other players on the political stage right now. What no one can deny is that he is a ruthless thug, not even all the bleach in the UK can ever wash off all the innocent blood he has spilt to establish and retain the Zanu PF dictatorship.

    The people of Zimbabwe have suffered these last 38 years from the corrupt and tyrannical Zanu PF dictatorship, they want and deserve a clean break and not to find themselves stuck with Mnangagwa or any other thug! It will be unforgivable if it should turnout that the British have played a major role in imposing Mnangagwa on the nation.

    It is a great disappointment to SADC leaders that MDC leaders failed to get even one reform implemented during the GNU. But they are not the only one who were disappointed; millions of ordinary Zimbabweans were disappointed and have paid dearly for that foolishness and continued to pay for it to this day.

    The way out of the Zimbabwe crisis is to revisit the 2008 reforms and get them implemented. Zanu PF has promised to hold free and fair elections but refused to implement the reforms. The junta is blatantly rigging these elections. SADC and the international community must declare these elections null and void and force Zanu PF to accept revisiting the 2008 reforms.

  3. Rockman says:

    Change can only come from Zimbabweans not through diplomats or analysts. If Zimbabwean voters want to vote for NC or ED let it be so, the only thing we is transparency in the election process for the elections to be credible, free and fair. One thing people forget is that Zanu PF is the most corrupt, incompetent and clueless organisation in Zimbabwe, diverting our attention to the MDC will not make us forget the wrongs in Zanu PF

  4. Itai Mach says:

    Lovely piece. This shift on the part of the UK was predictable. They invested in the MDC but their investment could not yield the desired outcomes. It was also quite clear that there was pressure for change from within Zanu-PF itself so why not ride on that. It makes business and political sense to go with an ED-led Zanu-PF as it represents a real new dispensation in Zimbabwe ??

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