HARARE – Britain has been forced to come clean on allegations that it is backing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to win the forthcoming polls a week after MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa had broken with diplomatic etiquette by cautioning Number 10 Downing Street against cosying-up with the ruling Zanu PF party.
Chamisa, who was on an official visit to the United Kingdom last week, used his address at Chatham House in London to express his concern over what appears to be the former colonial master’s pre-occupation with achieving stability in Zimbabwe at the expense of ensuring its adherence with democratic tenets.
“But that is a false narrative, you can never have stability without democracy,” he was quoted saying.
“We expect Britain and the European Union to speak for free and fair elections. There’s a very disturbing trend in the context of the British government in Zimbabwe. We’re seeing the inclination to align with one political party against another.
“That is disturbing, particularly in terms of the issue of just setting the basic standard for free and fair elections,” he added.
But in a statement issued on Tuesday, Britain, through its embassy in Harare, said it does not support any faction or political party in Zimbabwe and has actually been supportive to democratic and human rights initiatives in the country.
“We have put our money where our mouth is: between 2014 and 2019 the UK will have spent approximately £24 million on strengthening civil society’s support for transparency, accountability, human rights and citizen engagement around the polls.
“Our ambassador and senior members of the embassy team engage as often as is possible with officials from all main political parties in Zimbabwe. Our priority is to promote human rights and democratic gains for the Zimbabwean people.
“We believe that respectful, frank engagement with both the ruling party and the opposition is far more likely to succeed than public grandstanding or engaging with only one side. That’s what we’re doing,” reads part of the statement.
This comes as Britain’s influential envoy in Harare Catriona Laing — who has caused a social media frenzy after being pictured outside 10 Downing Street adorned in Mnangagwa’s trademark scarf — has come under mounting pressure over her alleged support for Mnangagwa, and has been forced to issue a statement clarifying that she was in “frank engagement” with all political protagonists in Zimbabwe and denied “engaging with only one side”.
Britain’s extraordinary interest in the Mnangagwa administration has also been seen in the record number of ministers dispatched to Harare since the 76-yar-old politician ascended the throne in November, a record three ministers so far.
First to visit Zimbabwe was Britain’s Africa minister then, Rory Stewart, who attended Mnangagwa’s inauguration on November 24, followed by permanent under-secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Simon McDonald. Then the new British minister of State for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, made Zimbabwe her first destination soon after her appointment as minister in February.
That sentiment has not been helped by a BBC HARDtalk interview by Stephen Sackur during which the interviewer used judgmental or foul words like “alarmist”, “partisan”, “stalking flames”, “raising temperatures”, and described the 40-year-old MDC Alliance presidential candidate’s campaign stumps as “Alice in wonderland”, “nonsense”.
So bad was the interview that the UK embassy in Harare has been forced to apologise.
“In the last few days, we’ve seen a fair amount of confusion regarding opposition leader …Chamisa’s appearance on BBC HARDtalk. In particular, Zimbabweans have been upset by a suggestion from the presenter that ballot papers for the forthcoming polls have already been printed.
“Some have even suggested the UK government may have inspired some of the journalist’s questions. We’ve made it clear on Twitter that the UK government has absolutely no say in how BBC journalists conduct this sort of interview. We can’t dictate journalists’ questions.
“As far as the UK embassy in Harare is aware, the ballot papers have not yet been printed. We aren’t privy to any information to the contrary. We’ve made it very clear that the UK does not support any particular faction, party or individual in the forthcoming Zimbabwe elections,” reads the statement from Laing’s office.
Exiled former Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo has alleged Laing was shamelessly pushing for Mnangagwa to win this election.
Chamisa told the Daily News yesterday that he had pressured top UK officials he met in Britain over a couple of issues.
The first issue was that Zimbabwe must return to legitimacy following the soft coup of November last year; secondly that the UK must help in defending good governance and democratic practices, which also entails staging free and fair elections.
Thirdly, he requested London to “chaperone and superintend the transition in Zimbabwe”.
“There is a chasm between the rhetoric and the delivery. There is a huge gap between the word and the deed. There is a huge, huge, huge and yawning gap. In fact, a gulf between what is said and what is done,” he said.
“Let there be a closure of that chasm and you are the bridge.”
Chamisa added that he also told British establishment officials that “we want you to help us”.
“What is the infrastructure you are putting in place for peace? What is the peace infrastructure because our colleagues have a tendency to go bonkers and turn wild at the slightest of opposition, at the slightest credible alternative? We are a credible alternative. They will surely go wild. Do you have the pill to tame them?” he asked rhetorically.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson and permanent secretary in the Media, Information and Broadcasting Services ministry, George Charamba, told journalists last week that the forthcoming election was not a contest between Zanu PF and the MDC Alliance but a ritual for the Mnangagwa administration to gain international recognition.
“There is no reckoning in this dispensation that this election is about Zanu PF and the MDC or whatever party. This election is about restoring international engagement and legitimacy, that is where we are. It must be honest, it must be transparent, it must be free, it must be fair, it must meet international standards, it must be violence-free and therefore it must be universally endorsed because it is an instrument of our international policy,” Charamba said.
“That is where we are. What young Chamisa has done and done inadvertently, but in a way that is nationally helpful, is to show that he can walk the length and breath of this country uninhibited, which means it is going to be difficult for him to turn around and say ‘it wasn’t free, it was fair’, then people will say, ‘comrade’ we saw you all over the country’, and we will be singing ‘hero sadza garwe swedera, hero sadza garwe swedera’, so he is making the point for us.
“And thank you police, secure him, let him convene as many meetings as he wants, but then budget for some kind of infantile proposition with every meeting. Southern Africa has a new Nelson he says, but that is the whole story, it is about legitimacy, that is where we are, we are playing a very high level game,” Charamba told reporters at an election reporting workshop in Kariba.