ZIMBABWE’S desperate bid to re-join the Commonwealth is hanging in the balance after the United Kingdom this week accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration of falling short of satisfying requirements enunciated in the Commonwealth charter amid escalating human rights abuses.
This follows a widening rift in relations between the southern African country and the United States as well as the European Union. The US and EU believe the Mnangagwa administration has not instituted enough economic and political reforms to usher Zimbabwe onto a new path while, on the other hand, the government is blaming sanctions imposed on the country for the worsening economic crisis in the country.
The international community has particularly been worried by the continuation of human rights abuses and the tolerance of corruption.The Zimbabwean government last week organised an anti-sanctions march in the country’s major cities and towns in line with a Sadc resolution to protest in solidarity with Zimbabwe.
Western embassies, particularly the US, countered Harare’s narrative, robustly emphasising that the number one problem in Zimbabwe was corruption, rather than sanctions. The embassies also highlighted various programmes their countries have initiated to assist vulnerable Zimbabweans.
The EU on its part has insisted that its restrictive measures do not hurt the economy as they are only targeted at former president Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and the Zimbabwe Defence Industry. The EU also slapped the country with an arms embargo.
Last week, the gloves were off as Western embassies in Harare openly told the world that Zimbabwe’s economic crisis was not caused by sanctions, but bad governance, corruption and the failure to institute political and economic reforms.
The re-engagement process that government has been boasting about has also been thrown off the rails with the United States adding the name of State Security minister Owen Ncube to the sanctions list last week.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister Sibusiso Moyo on Sunday made a futile plea to Kenya, the current chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, to assist in the readmission of Zimbabwe to the club of mostly former British colonies.
The British embassy told the Zimbabwe Independent the country could only re-join the 53-member inter-governmental organisation when it meets the requirements stipulated in the charter.
Zimbabwe quit the Commonwealth in December 2003 after a meeting of the organisation’s heads of government extended the country’s suspension from its ranks.
The Commonwealth had suspended Zimbabwe in March 2002 following the presidential election, which was marred by high levels of politically-motivated violence.
Zimbabwe has to fulfil a number of obligations in line with the Harare Declaration of 1991 which saw members of the Commonwealth pledging to ensure the protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth; democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government; fundamental human rights, including equal rights as well as create opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief among other pledges.
“The decision on whether or not Zimbabwe should be re-admitted to the Commonwealth isn’t for the UK alone to take: it is for all Commonwealth members. However, the UK would only support Zimbabwe’s readmission if Zimbabwe meets the requirements,” a British embassy spokesperson said.
“This would mean complying with the values and principles set out in the Commonwealth charter. Disproportionate use of force by police and other members of the security forces and other human rights violations as have been seen recently in the country are inconsistent with that charter and with the commitments made by the government of Zimbabwe.”
Since the November 2017 coup that toppled Mugabe, the Zimbabwean security forces have been under the spotlight for brutality which has resulted in the killing of more than 23 people since August 1 last year.
The security forces have also been implicated in close to 50 abductions of activists and torture since January. Kenyan government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna however refused to comment on the matter, saying the issue would strictly be kept between the two governments.
“It is a government-to-government issue and it is their wish that it remains that way,” Oguna said.In his plea to Kenya, Moyo painted a glowing picture of the human rights situation in the country, claiming government had made significant progress on reforms which the international community however says have been moving at snail’s pace.
“Our road to democratic renewal began with the historic election of July 2018. In its election observer report, the Commonwealth said that ‘important gains were made. With Commonwealth support, we believe the new government’s reform programme can be delivered faster and with greater durability’,” Moyo said.
“In the midst of ecological crises, the new Zimbabwean government is looking to restore balance to our international relations: we want to end the 20-year isolation under our predecessor. Key among those platforms for global collaboration is the Commonwealth. We seek Kenya’s support for Zimbabwe’s application to re-join.”
Moyo added that re-joining the Commonwealth could open opportunities for economic cooperation which Zimbabwe is desperately seeking.
Britain and the EU have maintained restrictive measures on Zimbabwe which the UK said was an appropriate response to the actions by the Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to its people.
“We consider that the current EU restrictive measures have been an appropriate response to political violence that’s been seen in Zimbabwe since 2000. They do no damage to the wider economy or the people of Zimbabwe. The UK stands with the Zimbabwean people in our support for democracy and good governance, helping with the country’s development and promoting regional security and prosperity: we continue to call for action on reform,” the embassy spokesperson said.