Zimbabwe’s readmission into the Commonwealth flops

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  • President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government applied on May 15, 2018, to re-join the Commonwealth group of nations
  • The Late former President Robert Mugabe withdrew the country from the group in 2003
  • The Commonwealth, however, admitted two former French colonies, Gabon and Togo as its 55th and 56th members

At the just-ended Commonwealth summit, Zimbabwe had a heavy presence as it continued to lobby for readmission.

This is 18 years after the late former President Robert Mugabe withdrew the country from the group in 2003. He described the grouping as an “Anglo-Saxon unholy alliance.” However, Zimbabwe’s re-admission appears to have flopped after the economic bloc snubbed the Southern African country.

The Commonwealth, on the other hand, admitted two former French colonies, Gabon and Togo as its 55th and 56th members. Togo and Gabon’s admission was based on the assessment of several standards such as the democratic process, good governance, and rule of law.

According to the CHOGM website, the 2022 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, also known as CHOGM 2022, was the 26th Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations. The meeting was originally scheduled for 26–27 June 2020 preceded by various fora between 22–25 June but was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 31 January 2022, it was announced that the meeting would be held on 24 and 25 June 2022, and the pre-meeting fora were held from June 20 to June 23. Charles, Prince of Wales represented the Head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, at the summit.

In 2020, the Commonwealth accounted for 8.7% of the UK’s total trade (i.e., the combined value of exports and imports) – this was around the same as the value of UK trade with Germany, which accounted for 9.6% of the UK’s total trade in 2020. The Commonwealth accounted for 9.4% of the UK’s exports in 2020, down from a high of 11.0% in 2011; imports from the Commonwealth accounted for 8.1% of UK imports in 2020, down from a high of 9.9% in 2009. (Photo/ House of Commons library)

As far as December 8, 2003, The Guardian said Zimbabwe dramatically quit the Commonwealth after the 54-nation grouping resolved to extend sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s government for violating the group’s democratic values.

“Accordingly, Zimbabwe has withdrawn its membership from the Commonwealth with immediate effect,” said a Zimbabwean government statement.

Zimbabwe was first suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002, after Mugabe was denounced for rigging his re-election and persecuting opponents. The issue had threatened to split the Commonwealth along racial lines, but the body managed to forge a compromise at its Nigeria summit, appointing a seven-nation panel to monitor Zimbabwe’s progress towards improved democratic values.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government applied on May 15, 2018, to re-join the grouping, a year after toppling Mugabe through a military coup.

According to an article by the Independent dated June 17, 2022, Scotland subsequently deployed a Commonwealth team led by Ghana’s former president John Dramani Mahama to observe Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections.

In his letter of transmittal addressed to the Commonwealth secretary-general accompanying the report, Mahama underlined that the violence that ensued after the 2018 polls: “marred this phase of the elections”. Mahama’s report on the electoral process, according to Scotland, was expected to “give member countries a clear view of adherence to Commonwealth values in Zimbabwe, including democracy and rule of law plus protection of human rights, such as freedom of expression.”

“We note that important gains were made in these elections. However, the acute bias of the state media in favour of the governing party, persistent allegations of intimidation reported to the group, and the unfair use of incumbency privileges tilted the playing field in favour of the governing party (ZANU PF).

“The post-election violence, which resulted in fatalities, and the behaviour of security forces marred this phase of elections. For these reasons, we are unable to endorse all aspects of the process as credible, inclusive, and peaceful,” Mahama said.

In an article by Newsday published on June 27, 2022, Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the Commonwealth snub was a direct indication that the second republic was reminiscent of the Mugabe regime.

“It’s a confirmation of the obvious, that the Mnangagwa regime has not changed. It’s a mere extension of Mugabe’s regime, albeit with more brazen human rights violations, lack of political sophistry, and obscene looting of resources and corruption,” Saungweme said.

“So whatever the Commonwealth stands for and whatever standards that saw Zimbabwe being kicked out, nothing has changed for the better to warrant a rethink. So the failure of readmission pours cold water on Mnangagwa’s re-engagement efforts.”

According to a related article by Newsday, political analyst Methuseli Moyo said the decision spotlighted Zimbabwe negatively on the global stage.

“Diplomatically, it is a setback for President Mnangagwa’s administration, which has sought to portray itself as new and different from former President Mugabe’s regime. Once more, it spotlights Zimbabwe negatively in the international relations arena. Domestically, opposition forces will feel vindicated on their stance that Zimbabwe is undemocratic and poorly governed,” Moyo said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs and International Trade deputy minister David Musabayana said the government would not be fazed if their bid for readmission was turned down.

“We are not worried whether we are going to be taken back to Commonwealth because we acted on our resolution and because the President has said that we are open for business and want to partake on a table where global players, that’s why we have chosen our interests,” he said.

“So whatever that comes, whether it’s positive or negative, we are not worried. But the position of the government is that we wanted to be part of the global village and that’s our interest only.”

Despite clear signs of rejection by Commonwealth, Newsday quoted Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson Livit Mugejo saying that the government had not yet failed as their application was still in the first phase of readmission.

“There are processes and consultations that the Commonwealth undertakes before a decision is taken. These are currently underway. We did not fail anything. Our application is still in the first stage of the re-admission process,” Mugejo said.

According to Bulawayo24, political analysts said chances of Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth were slim before the beginning of the summit.

“At some point, the prospects of readmission looked bright, but somehow things, especially our politics, and the violence by both State and non-State actors are threatening to come back. Again, the government seems not ready to allow full expression of democratic rights by the opposition, civil society, and even workers. It is difficult to see the readmission happening. If it happens, it will be conditional,” analyst Methuseli Moyo said.

Another political analyst Vivid Gwede said: “Zimbabwe’s readmission to the Commonwealth has been made conditional on specific reform initiatives that the country’s leadership needs to undertake. Among these benchmarks is the issue of respect for human rights and basic freedoms as well as democratic expression, which unfortunately remains unsatisfactory in light of recent developments.”

Effie Ncube, another political expert, said: “There is no basis at all for them to apply for readmission due to all those violations of human rights and there is no basis for CHOGM to admit them back. They still have to mend things that are not going right in the country. Zimbabwe is not behaving as expected as a member of the Commonwealth as it is entirely in violation of its principles. There is no justification for them to be readmitted.”

Read: Tanzania Vice President To Represent Country At CHOGM

Albert is a Chemical Technologist and Author. He is passionate about mining, stock market investing, Fintech and Edutech.

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