Zimbabwe: Commonwealth sends fact-finding mission to assess readmission

By The Africa Report
Posted on Thursday, 1 December 2022 09:19

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa reviews the guard of hounour at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 9, 2022. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

After being suspended for more than three decades from the Commonwealth group of nations, Zimbabwe is angling for re-admission despite a chequered human rights record.

The country was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002 at the height of its controversial Land Reform Programme under the leadership of the late former President Robert Mugabe.

It was later removed in 2004 following violent land seizures in 2000 where white commercial farmers were removed to make way for black indigenous farmers.

The culmination of the violent elections, human rights abuses, and lack of rule of law, were all seen as against Commonwealth principles, hence Zimbabwe’s suspension.

But now under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, the country has applied for readmission and has invited a Commonwealth fact-finding mission led by Commonwealth Secretariat Assistant Secretary General Luis Franceschi, which was in Zimbabwe from 12 – 18 November.

What needs to be met for its re-admission

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary, Ambassador James Manzou tells The Africa Report that much progress to date has been made relating to elements for the country’s eligibility criteria.

“We are confident of the reforms we have carried out so far. These reforms are homegrown and have been meant to improve the lives and well-being of our people.

“The assessment mission to Zimbabwe has since left the country and issued a positive response on their visit. These developments point to the warming of our relations and the willingness of both parties to engage and embrace each other.”

He continues: “The government of Zimbabwe has been committed and has implemented a number of social, economic and political reforms. Government has made tremendous progress in implementing reforms, demonstrating clear prioritisation of democratic values, respect for human rights and property rights, freedom of expression and assembly, rule of law, as well as social and economic development.”

However, during Franceschi’s meeting with the opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), civic society organisations, and rights groups, they stressed how certain fundamentals have not yet been met given there are continued human rights abuses, political violence, and closure of civic space in the country.

Rights groups feel that the government still restricts civic space through oppressive pieces of legislation like the Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill currently before Parliament and the recently announced Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill, which is deemed oppressive as it calls for criminal punishment on people that speak ill of the country, and is seen as targeted at the opposition for calling for sanctions.

CCC leader Nelson Chamisa told the Commonwealth team that Zimbabwe still suffers from a governance crisis, disputed leadership, and flawed elections.

“It is a crisis borne out of disputed elections, legitimacy, and we have noted that Zimbabwe is buffeted by a set of circumstances that have germinated acrimony, divisions, disputed national processes and outcomes, disputed leadership, toxicity and lack of legitimacy. This has essentially been the problem in Zimbabwe,” Chamisa said.

The opposition is unhappy about the continued incarceration of its legislator, Job Sikhala, who has spent more than 170 days in jail and has been denied bail nine times.

The other imprisoned legislator, Godfrey Sithole was released on bail just as the Commonwealth team jetted into the country.

Fundamentals not met

Ahead of the 2023 polls next year, political violence mainly perpetrated by the ruling Zanu PF party is rife.

Opposition CCC female legislator Jasmine Toffa was brutally attacked while campaigning by suspected ruling party Zanu PF activists and had to be hospitalised.

While opposition supporters are languishing in jail on alleged charges of political violence, ruling party supporters who have committed violence have not been arrested.

As a result, civic society organisations feel that the fundamentals have not been met for Zimbabwe’s re-admission.

In its position paper on Zimbabwe’s re-admission to the Commonwealth, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said:  “We also note the serious political change that took place in November 2017 with the removal from office of Robert Mugabe, and the human rights record of the government both before and after the election in 2018 (when Mnangagwa took over).

“The forum has had occasion to issue repeated reports documenting the unacceptable human rights record of the Zimbabwe government since November 2017.  It is doubtful that Zimbabwe meets the conditions of adherence to the Harare Commonwealth Declaration (1995).”

But Manzou says Mnangagwa’s government has managed to bring many reforms in a very short space of time.

“The people of Zimbabwe are enjoying more political tolerance in the Second Republic,” he tells The Africa Report.

Land Reform Programme compensation

Zimbabwe’s eligibility for re-admission is also closely linked to its progress in compensating former white commercial farmers removed during the Land Reform Programme.

The main reason for Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth was its failure to compensate white farmers whose land had been repossessed during the 2000 Land Reform Programme.

But Manzou says the land issue is done and dusted.

“There is no country that can fully empower its people without giving them access to land. Yes, the issue of land is at the core of the antagonism between Zimbabwe and the West.

“As part of its reform agenda meant to correct challenges that came with the Land Reform Programme, in July 2020, the Second Republic under the able leadership of H.E President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former white farmers signed a $3.5bn compensation agreement for the farmers.”

He adds: “This agreement is a significant step towards bringing closure to the land reform programme. The government is committed to rectifying BiPPAs that were violated during the implementation of the Land Reform Programme in the early 2000s.”

Missed opportunities 

Manzou says that had Zimbabwe remained a member of the Commonwealth, it would have benefitted from being part of a mutually supportive community of 54 countries drawn from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific, aided by more than 80 Commonwealth organisations.

“On exiting the body, the country lost the support extended to member countries to achieve development, democracy and peace by the Commonwealth secretariat.”

After leaving the Commonwealth, he says Zimbabwe lost its influence in international politics, and opportunities in training, technical assistance, and benefits in sporting, education, health, and financial sectors.

“In trade terms, being a member of the Commonwealth will give Zimbabwe access to a market of more than four billion people,” he adds.

UK, US sanctions and Commonwealth re-admission

Manzou believes sanctions should not be a factor influencing Zimbabwe’s re-admission to the Commonwealth.

“The US is not a member of the Commonwealth and the decision on the re-admission is not taken by the governments of the US and UK, but rather by the consensus of the Commonwealth members.

“There are clear guidelines of what is required of Zimbabwe to be re-admitted, and removal of sanctions by the UK and US is not one of the demands,” he says.

After the five-day visit to Zimbabwe, Franceschi said: “Zimbabwe has made significant progress in its journey to re-join the Commonwealth family. This is encouraging and we hope that further progress will be made.”

He added that meetings held with the government, opposition, civic society groups, religious leaders, the media, and others, showed that generally, they were in support of Zimbabwe’s re-admission to the Commonwealth, despite complaints of human rights abuses.

The Commonwealth has yet to finalise Zimbabwe’s re-admission.

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