BRITISH think-tank Chatham House has urged government to speed up the pace of political and economic reforms if Zimbabwe’s quest to re-join the community of nations is to get back on track.
Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive has over the past year suffered major setbacks on the back of rising human rights abuses and a crackdown on political and civil liberties.
Human rights activists say more than 50 people have been abducted since the beginning of the year while a military crackdown on protesters in January claimed the lives of at least 17 people.
The think-tank last week launched a report titled Forging Inclusive Economic Growth in Zimbabwe Insights from the Zimbabwe Futures 2030 Roundtable Series, urging the Zimbabwean government to reassure the international community on its commitment to implementing far-reaching reforms.
Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow for Chatham House’s Africa Programme, told the Zimbabwe Independent that the country’s international re-engagement drive has been topsy-turvy, saying President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government should up the ante on reforms.
“Zimbabwe’s re-engagement has had ups and downs. It started off with a lot of fanfare around 2013-2014 up until about 2016, it really accelerated. But then the transition happened and it has increased the re-engagement drive. The broader international community has raised the issue about the pace of reforms. That is where the issue is,” Chitiyo said.
After the November 2017 coup, Mnangagwa’s administration basked in glory and enjoyed international goodwill, with some previously hostile nations such as Britain pledging to help the country’s re-engagement process.
The re-engagement drive is seen as key towards securing funding from international financial institutions and ensuring Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth.
“We welcome Zimbabwe government’s commitment to political and economic reforms. For sure there have been some reforms which have occurred both politically and economically, particularly in the economy. But I think the issue is more about the pace. I think the general public would want to see a faster pace of reforms,” Chitiyo said.
“Everyone agrees that reforms are necessary and government should be commended for committing to reforms. The proof will be in the implementation and that is where improvements should be made. The international community would like to see deeper and faster pace of reforms.”
The new Maintenance of Peace and Security Act (Mopa), which replaced the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), has divided opinion in parliament with legislators from the opposition MDC accusing Zanu PF of failing to discard a draconian piece of legislation.
The re-engagement drive has also been put off-balance by heightened state brutality characterised by the August 1, 2018 shootings and the January shootings that claimed six and 17 lives respectively.
While Britain through former ambassador Catriona Laing had committed to supporting Mnangagwa’s quest to re-join the international community, London has since taken a step back on Harare’s quest for re-engagement.
Chitiyo said although there was still goodwill between the two countries, Britain, like the rest of the international community, was demanding timeous and substantive reforms.
He said next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit will be a litmus test for Zimbabwe to prove its progress towards implementing reforms, seen as crucial for the Southern African country to be readmitted into the club of former British colonies.
“I think there is still goodwill between Zimbabwe and Britain, but the British government as part of a broader international community would like to see a faster pace of reforms. Next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit will be a litmus test for Zimbabwe in terms of its re-engagement drive,” Chitiyo said.
Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung resident representative for Zimbabwe David Mbae said government should be consistent in implementing reforms.
“There is a lot of commitment towards supporting the government of Zimbabwe on its reform agenda and the efforts they are taking to turn around the economy. But there were high expectations on both sides and there is a mutual issue where both sides have to move toward each other.
Steps have to be taken by government to show that there is the will to reform and also on the part of the West to show the support for the people of Zimbabwe,” Mbae said.
“I think there were mixed signals where on one side there is the right message but at the same time some crucial issues are not discussed in the way the Western countries should. For example, settle the issue of corruption. We all know that money that is reported in the Auditor-General’s report shows that the means for health and infrastructure is not going where they are supposed to go. So I think these are the issues that are meant to be discussed.”
To rescue the international re-engagement effort that has gone off the rails in the wake of a massive crackdown on civil rights, the Zimbabwean government last month hired a fourth lobby and public relations (PR) firm in a desperate bid to spruce up its battered international image.