BRITAIN — whose envoy was the first to arrive in Harare from overseas following last November’s military coup — is spearheading President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s reconstruction agenda with a sequence of actions designed to rescue Zimbabwe from the doldrums.
By Owen Gagare
A series of events this week and of late have seen British ambassador to Harare Catriona Laing, leaving for Nigeria on November 1 after the expiry of her tour of duty, step up efforts to ensure Zimbabwe comes up with a recovery plan and secures international support for it despite the huge funding problems which still remain.
Western diplomats who briefed the Zimbabwe Independent on the issue this week said Britain, in an ironic turn of events, is now actively helping Zimbabwe to rebuild the nation shattered by extended years of bad leadership, policy failures, corruption, human rights abuses and misrule, as well as sanctions mainly lobbied for by London.
“Britain had a transitional plan for Zimbabwe well before (former president Robert) Mugabe was removed,” a diplomat said.
“The plan went a gear up after the events of November last year (military coup which ousted Mugabe). Following the recent elections, London accelerated engagement with Harare and now what is happening is that there are talks at various levels about different things which must be done during the reconstruction phase. The plan includes political and economic reforms, but mostly importantly an economic recovery plan which needs billions of dollars.”
Diplomats say the Zimbabwe recovery strategy and roadmap which Britain is supporting has various elements and markers: an economic stabilisation blueprint; fiscal policy shock; the Lima Plan and flying in of assessment missions to check if Harare is ready to negotiate with international financial institutions (IFIs), especially ahead of the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings in Bali, Indonesia; an International Advisory Council; Harare re-joining the Commonwealth, restoration of military-security co-operation between London and Harare, and securing funding.
Zimbabwe’s economic bailout and recovery programme as well as a political reform package are designed to achieve, among other outcomes, economic revival and democratic restoration underpinned by respect for political, civil and human rights, as well as freedom, rule of law and property rights.
The pivot of Mnangagwa’s new dispensation and economic order is the process to normalise relationships with international partners, creditors and investors.
However, diplomats say rebuilding foreign, trade and investment relations will require political legitimacy and stability, and a clear and consistent policy agenda.
To address the issue of political legitimacy after the disputed presidential election, Mnangagwa, with British support, is offering main opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa the proposed post of official opposition leader in parliament. Chamisa met Laing this week to discuss the current situation in Zimbabwe.
Sources say the opposition chief, however, will not take the position, although Mnangagwa has plans to rope him in. Chamisa insists there is no offer from Mnangagwa yet and thus no talks as well.
Britain is in the thick of action, although other European Union states, especially big powers like Germany and France, remain neutral. Other donor countries treading carefully include Australia and Canada. China is ready to help subject to negotiations.
The United States is digging in and has tightened sanctions, hence financial restrictions.
“Britain is eager to support Zimbabwe at the IMF/World Bank annual meetings and related events that will be held in Bali Nusa Dua, Indonesia, from Monday, October 8, through Sunday, October 14,” another diplomat said.
“During the meeting and its main focus will be the joint World Bank Group/IMF Development Committee, and the IMF International Monetary and Financial Committee, which discuss progress on the work of the institutions. Also featured are seminars, regional briefings, press conferences, and many other events focussed on the global economy, international development, and the world’s financial markets.
“Zimbabwe will be discussed on the side-lines of the meeting and hence Britain is lobbying behind the scenes for support to help bring back the Lima Plan on track.”
Mnangagwa, currently in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, this week met UK Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin who pledged support for Zimbabwe’s Lima programme, aimed at clearing IFIs’ US$1,8 billion arrears before getting new funding.
In his speech at the UN General Assembly, Mnangagwa demanded the lifting of sanctions.
Mnangagwa also met the World Bank vice-president for Africa, Hafez Ghanem.
Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications) George Charamba told the state-controlled media this week that UK would actually second people to assist Zimbabwe.
“In this aspect, the UK is actually involved by way of sending assessment missions to check we are geared to interact with multilateral financial institutions,” Charamba said.
“There is a Lima meeting in Bali (Indonesia) soon and the expectation is that the UK will play a positive role and hitherto closed doors will open.”
London has kept closely engaged with Harare since Mnangagwa came in. The first envoy from London to come to Harare was British Minister for Africa Rory Stewart who met Mnangagwa a few hours after his inauguration on November 24 last year – 10 days after the coup.
After that Sir Simon Gerard McDonald, permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service, followed. And then Baldwin came in February before meeting Mnangagwa in New York again this week.
Authorities say Britain has also given input to the government’s transitional economic stabilisation programme being crafted by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube now overseeing the debt clearance strategy.
Ncube is now in the thick of things, spearheading the recovery plan. Together with Mnangagwa and Reserve Bank chief John Mangudya, Ncube held a number of meetings in New York with investors and fund managers. He is set to meet the Chinese after October 7, possibly upon his return from Bali.
As first reported by the Independent in its lead story on September 9, 2016, under the headline Britain supports Mnangagwa bid, and another story on May 5, 2018 headlined British govt banking on Mnangagwa rule, the UK had long developed a grand plan to steer Zimbabwe through its turbulent political transition led by Mnangagwa.
Laing, a Mnangagwa advocate, said recently Britain will play a crucial role in helping Zimbabwe to get on to an interim IMF staff-monitored programme to help it quickly arrears.
She told reporters on September 18 the programme would enable Zimbabwe “to start a serious dialogue” on clearance of the arrears.
“We are here to give that support to try and encourage a process back to an IMF programme, perhaps through an interim staff monitoring programme as soon as possible,” Laing said.
London-based emerging market fund Gemcorp Group this month extended a US$250 million loan to Zimbabwe to help the country import essential goods like fuel and medicine.
In May, the CDC Group plc, a development finance institution owned by the UK government, became the first British entity to extend a direct commercial loan to Zimbabwe in more than two decades, making available a US$100 million facility to the private sector through one of that country’s biggest international banks, Standard Chartered Bank.