By Bloomberg and News24
Zimbabwe’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, has accused the UK government of siding with the ruling party as the southern African nation gears up to hold national elections in late July or August.
The vote will be the first since the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe, whose relations with the UK deteriorated after its government accused him of human-rights abuses. Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised to revive an economy that’s halved in size since 2000 as a result of a failed land reform program, hyperinflation and mass emigration.
The UK is miscalculating in Zimbabwe, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, said in an address in London this week. “There’s a tendency to align with one political party against another,” he said. “There has been a shift by the British government to focus on stability at the cost of governance. That is a false calculation.”
Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, and her deputy Simon Thomas have faced criticism from the MDC and civil-rights organisations for tweets seen as praising the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and “on-going reforms.” Both have rejected the criticism, saying on social media that the UK is attempting to “normalise relations” with Zimbabwe.
Critics including Bulawayo Senator David Coltart and the leader of the People’s Democratic Party, Tendai Biti, argue that there haven’t been any reforms, and allege that Zanu-PF continues to use the national broadcaster and state-controlled newspapers as propaganda tools. The Harare-based Herald newspaper, controlled by the government, described the MDC visit to the UK this week as “sinister.”
Elections in Zimbabwe must take place by August 22, but a date hasn’t been set. Chamisa will run as the candidate of the MDC, which has formed an alliance with six opposition parties, after he was elected to replace Zimbabwe’s main opposition figure and MDC founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February.
Re-engagement key to Zim-UK relations
Chamisa reiterated the coalition’s call for a number of reforms to allow for a credible vote, including the publication of the voters’ roll, and said the party would stage protests to demand its release. While Tsvangirai served as prime minister in a unity government with Zanu-PF in 2009, Chamisa said he won’t consider a power-sharing deal after the elections.
The southern African nation hasn’t had a peaceful political transition since white-minority rule ended in 1980, and all the votes held since 2000 that handed victory to Mugabe were marred by violence and allegations of rigging.
The MDC will review state business deals and introduce a new currency if it wins the election, Chamisa said.
Chamisa told reporters that he had a “fruitful” discussion with Johnson.
“I have met with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Zimbabwe-UK relations on a fantastic path. The future is bright,” said Chamisa.
Chamisa urged the Theresa May government to reconsider its planned new policy on Zimbabwe, saying that the new policy should come into effect after a “successful free and fair election”.
In recent months, Britain has focused more on re-engagement to promote business and stabilise the Zimbabwe’s economy.
However, Chamisa said that the southern African country’s former colonisers were making a “mistake” on Zimbabwe by assisting President Mnangagwa’s government before it had implemented electoral and economic reforms.
Earlier this year, Johnson expressed optimism over Zimbabwe’s political future but urged Mnangagwa’s government to deliver “a free and fair election”.