BY XOLISANI NCUBE
THE recent army crackdown on protesters in Harare has forced the United Kingdom Parliament to summon its Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, and the head of Department for International Development (DFID)-Zimbabwe, Annabel Gerry, to explain the situation.
According to a notice published on the UK Parliament website, Baldwin, who was in South Africa on Thursday, summoned all London envoys to southern Africa for a debriefing on the political situation in the region, particularly Zimbabwe.
They are set to appear before the International Development Committee tomorrow to speak on Harare’s political situation.
“The International Development Committee is holding an urgent evidence session on the situation in Zimbabwe. Following the recent violent crackdown by Zimbabwe’s security forces, this session allows the committee to explore how the UK, and DFID in particular, should respond. The committee will first hear from a panel of academic experts before then questioning the Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin MP, and the head of DFID Zimbabwe,” the notice read.
Before the recent army crackdown, which led to the death of 12 people and arrests of over 1 000 purported opposition supporters following protests over the high prices of fuel organised by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the UK government had begun a process of normalising relations with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime after nearly two decades of isolation under former President Robert Mugabe.
The UK was at the forefront in giving Mnangagwa, a long-time ally of Mugabe, the benefit of the doubt, saying he would be different from his former boss and that he would work to improve the democratic space in Zimbabwe.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017 sent at least two special envoys to Harare after Mnangagwa’s inauguration.
The first to land in Harare was British Minister for Africa Rory Stewart, who met Mnangagwa a few hours after his inauguration on November 24, followed by Sir Simon Gerard McDonald, a permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service.
Even a British parliamentary team came to Harare and met Mnangagwa, hoping to deepen ties with Harare should, as was hoped, the country hold free, fair, non-violent and credible elections.
Among the MPs was Labour Party Member of Parliament Kate Hoey, who last week said it was regrettable that London had endorsed Mnangagwa, whom they now accuse of behaving like Mugabe for using the army to crush opposing voices and shutting down the Internet at the height of public protests.
Last year, the UK backed Zimbabwe’s application to re-join the Commonwealth.
But the presence of armed soldiers on the streets and the gross human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians, assault and rape allegations levelled against the soldiers and persecution of opposition legislators, have put the country’s bid into
London, according to sources and its MPs, was taking the recent army crackdown and alleged violation of human rights seriously, to an extent that Baldwin last week summoned Melanie Robinson together with other regional envoys, to Pretoria for a debriefing.
Gerry, head of DFID South Africa and Zimbabwe, attended last week’s meeting in Pretoria, where the Zimbabwe issue was discussed.
According to the notice, Baldwin will present her evidence after experts have presented their story on Zimbabwe and these include Jocelyn Alexander, the professor of Commonwealth Studies at the University of Oxford and the author of Violence & Memory: One Hundred Years in the ‘Dark Forest’ of Matabeleland, Simukai Chigudu, an associate professor of African Politics and Fellow of St Antony’s College.
Also invited is Stephen Chan, a professor of politics and international studies at SOAS, University of London.
After the presentation by the professors of politics from various institutions, Baldwin will then be questioned together with Gerry.
Mnangagwa has received international condemnation following the military crackdown, with the United Nations local office last week raising concern over the state of affairs in the country, particularly allegations of violence that have left a trail of “destruction, looting, mass arrest, and detentions as well as reported physical violence, rape cases and sexual violence”.
UN said perpetrators of the atrocities should be brought to book, while victims should receive psychosocial support.