UK sends minister to Zim for first time in 20 years; urges reform

Source: 
The Telegraph

BRITAIN called on the incoming president of Zimbabwe to make good on promises to establish a new democracy following Robert Mugabe's fall from power as the first government minister to visit the country in nearly 20 years landed in Harare.

Rory Stewart, Britain’s minister for Africa, called on Emmerson Mnangagwa to show "clear resolve" on reform as he arrived in the capital for talks with officials and civil society activists on Thursday.

The visit came as Zimbabwe’s main opposition party warned Mnangagwa that he must dismantle the “pillars of repression” built by Mugabe if he is to live up to public expectations of change. 

Mnangagwa, who will be inaugurated as president on Friday, has a reputation as Mugabe’s enforcer and was implicated in some of the worst human rights abuses of Mugabe's 37-year rule.  

But the 75-year-old grandee of the ruling Zanu-PF party should be given a chance to demonstrate commitment to reform, the Movement for Democratic Change said in its first statement since Mugabe’s downfall. 

“‘Cautiously optimistic’ are the words I would use,” Obert Gutu, the MDC’s spokesman, told The Telegraph on Thursday.

“It is too early to say anything definitively. We will be listening very carefully to his inauguration speech,” he added. “That should give us some indication of the trajectory he intends to follow going forwards.”

 

Robert Mugabe resigned after 37 years as president of Zimbabwe on Tuesday. 

Mnangagwa, a former vice president who fled the country after Mugabe fired him earlier this month, returned to Zimbabwe in triumph on Wednesday. He will be sworn in as president on Friday morning at a ceremony at Harare’s 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium. 

In a speech to supporters on Wednesday he hailed a "new and unfolding democracy" and promised "jobs, jobs, jobs," raising hope among pro-democracy activists that he will heed demands for both economic and political reform. 

However, he also repeated Zanu-PF slogans about defeating enemies and said the party would always be in power, harking back to the party's traditionally authoritarian policies.   

Stewart, who is the first British minister to visit since 1998, arrived in Harare to meet politicians and civil society activists on Thursday morning. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office would not confirm whether he met with Mnangagwa. 

“This is an absolutely critical moment in Zimbabwe’s history,” he said.

“What comes next must be driven by Zimbabweans - it must be in line with the Zimbabwean constitution and will be impossible without clear resolve from the incoming government,” he said. 

Stewart is not expected to attend the inauguration.

 

The government said on Thursday that Britain is putting together an unspecified package of support for Zimbabwe tied with progress on political and economic reform. 

"As Zimbabwe's oldest friend we will do all we can to support a legitimate government to rebuild the country, working with international and regional partners." Earl Howe, deputy leader of the House of Lords, told peers.  

Britain ruled Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, until independence in 1980. There are over 100,000 Zimbabweans living in Britain. 

Alex Vines, the head of the Africa program at Chatham House, said it was not yet clear how much leverage Britain had to persuade Mnangagwa to make good on promises of reform, but called the visit "very significant."

"It reflects the importance of Zimbabwe psychologically to the UK, and the government attempt to show leadership among Western governments in how to respond to the leadership change there," he said. 

Mugabe is expected to attend Friday's inauguration. It is not clear whether his wife Grace, who had fought a fierce political battle with Mnanagagwa over the succession, will join him.

Mugabe has not been seen in public since he delivered a televised address on Sunday night. 

The 93-year-old former leader has reportedly been offered security guarantees for himself and his family, including immunity from prosecution, in exchange for his resignation. 

 

The former first family will be granted a retirement package including a pension, government sources told Reuters. 

 

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