No easy walk to Commonwealth: UK envoy


BRITAIN has told Harare that it is concerned over the reluctance shown by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to implement genuine reforms.

United Kingdom ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson, addressing journalists after a lengthy meeting with Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga yesterday, said she told Mnangagwa’s government that her country was concerned with the slow pace of reforms in Zimbabwe.

“I did express concern about some of the backward steps we have seen on the reforms in the past two years and asked him to see what he could take on that,” she said.

Robinson said because of a failure to implement genuine reforms, Zimbabwe was far from joining the Commonwealth.

“We discussed the Commonwealth and I said from the beginning, the UK was very clear. We would like to see Zimbabwe back in the Commonwealth and at the point that the economic and political reform programme of the government has been completed. Until we have seen good progress at that, and then that will be the time to look at membership. We are currently some way away from that, but we look forward into the future to see these reforms underway to be able to discuss Commonwealth membership,” the ambassador said.

In the recent past, Britain has expressed concern over deteriorating
human rights and closure of the democratic space, after what appeared to be an improvement in diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. The brutal clampdown on MDC demonstrations, abductions and torture of human rights activists and political players allegedly by the police and State actors saw a new standoff emerge.

The UK envoy said Britain wanted to see a prosperous Zimbabwe and was prepared to play a critical role to ensure that social services such as access to health did not collapse.

“I had the opportunity to say to the Vice-President, UK, above all, wants to see Zimbabwe succeed. We want to see it on a path to a more prosperous and peaceful future. For us, it means pursuing reforms with vigour, these are political and economic reforms,” she said.

Faced with a drought, health crisis and shortage of water, Zimbabwe is in need of food aid and medical assistance to avert disease outbreaks and famine.

The UK said it was ready to assist and was pouring in money to Zimbabwe to combat cholera outbreaks and hunger.

“We had a chance to talk about the humanitarian situation in the country and our concern that there are some people who are food insecure, there are people struggling with health and education. As the UK, we are providing £49 million for the food situation and an additional £5 million to prevent cholera outbreak,” she said.

The ambassador said in her meeting with Chiwenga, government was also concerned over the health crisis and food shortages that face Zimbabwe.

“We were able to talk about what we are doing and asked the Vice-President to share information about what government is doing. He said he is very concerned about the situation in a practical way and is prepared to meet with us in the coming days to share that information,” Robinson said.

A love-hate relationship exists between Zimbabwe and Britain, with the former accusing the latter of meddling in its internal politics and pushing a regime-change agenda.

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