BY KENNETH NYANGANI
FORMER British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing has been roasted by the United Kingdom Parliament for giving London misleading reports that portrayed President Emmerson Mnangagwa as a “reformist”.
Laing is accused of having been too close to the ruling Zanu PF party, resulting in her failing to expose alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by Mnangagwa’s administration.
Laing was the UK ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2014 to 2018, and she oversaw Zimbabwe’s transition from the late former President Robert Mugabe’s rule after he was ousted in a military coup by Mnangagwa.
Last week, UK lawmakers in the House of Lords said Laing’s links with Zanu PF resulted in her misleading the British public into believing that Mnangagwa was a reformist.
Laing, who is now UK’s top diplomat in Nigeria, was also accused of failing to give reports on the real situation on the ground in Zimbabwe ahead of the coup in 2017 and the 2018 elections.
While contributing to debate in the House of Lords, British MPs said they were surprised that Laing was mum about human rights abuses, corruption and other vices committed by Mnangagwa’s administration.
Kate Hoey, MP in the House of Lords said in 2018 they visited Zimbabwe together with other lawmakers ahead of the 2018 elections and learnt of Laing’s close links to the ruling Zanu PF party.
“In 2018, just before the last presidential election I, along with the Right Honourable Conor Burns, visited Zimbabwe to write a report for the UK branch of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on the possibilities of a free and fair election and the chances of Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth,” Hoey said.
“We did not put Zimbabwe out, of course… It was a depressing report. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (Zec) was not impartial and the voters roll was inadequate, for starters. The Constitution was being ignored, so we wrote of our disappointment and surprise that our ambassador at that time seemed to be so close to the ruling Zanu PF party.”
Hoey saluted the current UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melainie Robson for doing great work in Zimbabwe.
“I have to say that the current ambassador is doing a great job and is widely respected,” Hoey added.
She said they sounded a warning that Mnangagwa was not a reformist and was likely to perpetuate Mugabe’s heavy-handedness.
“Many of us in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe at that time tried to warn of the danger and futility of expecting change from Mnangagwa. Not for nothing is he known as the crocodile. We were dismissed by some as needlessly pessimistic and lacking understanding of his desire to change, but as forecast, the pattern set by Mugabe was carried forward with sustained intensity and vigour, complying with plans cunningly crafted with the help of the military.
“Those had been planned for some time. Unfortunately, too many of the agencies working in the country and too many diplomats initially fell for his lies and rather evil charm. We were told that a new chapter of peace, economic efficiency and prosperity would be opened up. I have to say that the current ambassador is doing a great job and is widely respected,” Hoey said.
She said Zimbabwe was still being afflicted by the same horror story of corruption, greed and violent oppression.
“The only expertise Zanu-PF has ever shown, I am afraid, is in brutality, lying, theft and terror,” she added.
In 2018, Laing was forced to deny Hoey and Burns’ allegations that she showed bias towards Mnangagwa and mocked the then MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa in the run-up to the elections.
She was also under fire for being aloof following the army-led August 1, 2018 shootings that left six unarmed civilians dead.
“We were disappointed at how every element of civil society and politicians outside Zanu PF had the belief that the UK embassy — and in particular the ambassador is biased in favour of the incumbent regime,” the two MPs said in their critical report.
“Huge offence was taken that our ambassador wore a Mnangagwa scarf outside 10 Downing Street earlier this year on her visit to the UK. This offence and fear of bias was compounded when the first person to re-tweet it from his official account was Mnangagwa himself.
“The embassy organised a dinner for us to meet some Zimbabweans and we found that most were supporters of Zanu PF. Indeed prior to the dinner the ambassador was openly ridiculing the leader of the MDC Alliance,” the two MPs added in the report.
On August 5, 2018, Laing took to Twitter to deny reports of ridiculing Citizens Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa (then MDC Alliance leader).
“I certainly did not ridicule Chamisa, who I recognise as a major political figure in Zimbabwe,” Laing said.
Zanu PF commissar Mike Bimha refused to comment on the matter referring questions to party spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa.
“It’s true that we had a positive relationship with her (Laing). She had a positive attitude towards Zimbabwe. We worked well with her, especially the new dispensation,” Mutsvangwa said yesterday.